Shipping firm lands 'no-deal' Brexit ferry contract but has no ships
A shipping company landed a GBP13
A shipping company landed a GBP13.8 million (US$17.6 million) contract to run additional ferry services in the event of a 'no-deal' Brexit, however, it does not currently have any ferries.
Questions were raised over the UK government's preparations after it emerged Seaborne Freight was one of three companies awarded contracts totalling GBP108 million to lay on additional freight crossings to ease the pressure on Dover, reported UK's SkyNews.
Seaborne said it was on track to start twice daily sailings by the end of March - when the UK is due to leave the EU - having initially planned to launch Ramsgate-Ostend crossings during February.
The company said in a statement that it had been working since 2017 on plans to reintroduce ferry sailings from Ramsgate starting in early 2019.
It said that a 'development phase' included 'locating suitable vessels, making arrangements with the ports of Ostend and Ramsgate, building the infrastructure, such as bunkering, as well as crewing the ferries once they start operating.'
The company plans to start with two ships in late March and increase to four by late summer, the statement added.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: 'This contract was awarded in the full knowledge that Seaborne Freight is a new shipping provider, and that the extra capacity and vessels would be provided as part of its first services.
'As with all contracts, we carefully vetted the company's commercial, technical and financial position in detail before making the award.'
Seaborne said the late March start 'coincides with the Department for Transport's Freight Capacity Purchase Agreement with Seaborne which is part of their preparations to increase ferry capacity in the unlikely event of a no-deal Brexit.'
Ministers faced questions over the contract from across the political divide.
Ramsgate councillor Paul Messenger questioned in a BBC interview whether the government had carried out sufficient checks on the firm, saying: 'It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done?'
Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, a campaigner for a second referendum, said: 'We know our ports aren't ready for a no-deal disaster but is hiring a firm that's never dealt with this kind of thing before really going to help? This idea should have been sunk before it saw the light of day,' she concluded.
Ramsgate has not had a cross-Channel service since operators TransEuropa collapsed in 2013.