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SeaFrance ships stuck at quayside

Troubled cross-Channel ferry firm gets leeway to find new buyer but passengers hit as safety and security problems stop it going back to sea

TROUBLED Calais-Dover ferry operator SeaFrance has not been able to get its ships back to sea after it was given leeway to trade until January 28 to allow it more time to find a buyer.

It is a blow for passengers as the company website gives no information except to call a UK number where "all our agents are busy at the moment".

SeaFrance press office said its ships were "tied up at the quayside until problems related to the administrator, safety and security are resolved. This could take some time."

The confusion comes after the Tribunal de Commerce de Paris put the firm into judicial liquidation. It rejected two buy-out bids as not offering enough money.

SeaFrance went into administration after it made €240 million losses last year and although it now has a breathing space in which to attract new offers the failure to get the ferries back to sea is a major blow for travellers.

Two bids to buy SeaFrance were on the table before the tribunal - one from a DFDS/LD Lines consortium which has offered €5 million while an employee cooperative has offered a symbolic €1 - and these were judged insufficient.

New offers must be lodged by December 12.

The company, part-owned by SNCF, has been under huge pressure from Channel Tunnel operations and initially suspended all cross-Channel services for 48 hours. Its ferries are tied up at Calais with crews on board.

There had been fears that an attempt would be made to stage a sit-in if the DFDS/LD Lines offer had been accepted.

The boss of the Danish ferry company, Niels Smedegaard, told La Voix du Nord that only his company could save SeaFrance and dismissed the workers’ co-operative bid as a "mirage".

DFDS and LD Lines would create a new company to serve routes from Dover-Calais, the present DFDS Dunkirk-Dover; and the LD Lines service Le Havre-Portsmouth and Dieppe-Newhaven. It would keep three of the four SeaFrance vessels. However, nearly 400 jobs would go in the takeover, with only 460 jobs being retained out of the present workforce of more than 800.

The company says its website www.seafrance.com will be updated with the latest news but passengers can call the helpline on +44 (0) 845 458 0666

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