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Eurotunnel joins SeaFrance fight

Boss says company will buy ferries and lease them back to workers cooperative to keep French flag flying at Calais

A LATE bid to save cross-Channel ferry firm SeaFrance has come from a leading competitor, with Eurotunnel's chief executive saying it could buy the firm's ferries and lease them back to the workers' cooperative planning a buy-out.

Jacques Gounon told Libération that his company had contacted the administrators on Friday with his offer and said: "We could not allow the only French company in the port of Calais to disappear."

His move would also keep up the pressure on LD Lines which was one of the early bidders to buy SeaFrance and which has been a fierce rival for cross-Channel business.

It comes as a Paris commercial court convenes today to decide the future of SeaFrance - and which could still decide on the company's liquidation. It went into administration last November after making a loss of €240 million. It has struggled since the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994.

LD Lines and partner DFDS Seaways pulled out of the bidding over fears of union troubles with its plan to get rid of more than half the 880 jobs at Calais. That left only the CFDT union-back plan for a Scop (workers cooperative) although that bid is €50 million short of the funds needed to run the company.

President Sarkozy has suggested the workers combine their redundancy pay to fund the project, but the union has said this is a non-starter as it could lead to legal problems - even if they could persuade all the workers to take part.

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