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Eurotunnel to buy SeaFrance ferries

Channel Tunnel operator says ferries can be used in a way that is complementary to its rail activities

EUROTUNNEL has announced it plans to buy three of the four ferries owned by SeaFrance, which has gone into liquidation.

The French-owned firm’s chairman, Jacques Gounon, has spoken of working with the “Scop” cooperative of SeaFrance workers, which had hoped to organise a buyout of the ferry firm, to organise how a service will continue, using the ships.

He has said he wants to offer posts to former SeaFrance staff and to keep offering “jobs in Calais under a French flag”.

Eurotunnel has been a competitor to Channel ferry firms since it opened in 1994, and SeaFrance had been struggling since then.

Mr Gounon has said however he thinks the ferries can be run in a way that is “complementary” to Eurotunnel’s service, with a greater proportion of freight than SeaFrance.

The ferries can carry loads which, due to size, or to regulations on dangerous materials, are hard to transport by tunnel. They are also practical for coaches, for which Eurotunnel is not competitive, he said.

The firm has set up a branch called Eurotransmanche to invest in the boats, Mr Gounon said, adding they had the money, in cash, needed to buy the ships – up to €110-150 million. He has also asked the Nord-Pas-de-Calais preisdent Daniel Percheron to invest the €10 million that the council previously offerred to keep SeaFrance afloat.

Rival firms LD Lines and DFDS have plans for the launch of a new ship at Calais, next month, however Mr Gounon told Le Monde he was not worried about competition. “Let them come,” he said. “As for us, we hope to make use of the skills of the ex-SeaFrance staff to relaunch a line and increase prices. In recent years SeaFrance only survived due to very low, aggressive pricing.”

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