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Stormy weather for crossings

Over-capacity on cross-Channel ferries has seen routes cut and one company on brink of bankruptcy

FERRY services to the UK are in turmoil in the run-up to Christmas as over-capacity crossing the Channel has led to firms cutting services and routes.

DFDS Seaways is the latest to pull out of the long-haul route to Scotland from Zeebrugge, but it comes hard on the heels of LD Lines ending the Boulogne-Dover service because it could not pull in enough passengers.

It also comes as SNCF-owned SeaFrance faces bankruptcy and staff trouble over its plans to cut 752 jobs in a bid to find a way to turn a profit on the Calais-Dover service.

Calais-Dover market leader, P&O, wants 70 job losses from its head office in Dover, where it employs 475. P&O chief executive Helen Deeble said it was trying to compete with low-cost rivals “in a highly competitive market”.

LD Lines spokesman Nick Stevens blamed over-capacity at Dover for its pull-out and said every operator was feeling the pinch. LD Lines, as the newest arrival, was particularly badly placed.

It was talking to freight companies to see if it could get their commitment to run Boulogne-Dover freight-only, but there would be no passengers: hauliers paid more and cost less.

The company has joined a new European initiative called Motorway of the Seas to switch its Boulogne ferries to Nantes in the west of France. where it will run what it calls a “land bridge” between the UK and Spain.

The €740 million Motorway of the Seas project aims to get freight transport off the roads and travelling by sea to cut carbon emissions.

Mr Stevens said the land bridge would open up transport to Spain. “Passengers on our Portsmouth-Le Havre and Newhaven-Dieppe services can cross to Nantes and take the ferry from St Nazaire to Gijon in north Spain.”

The route has received €30 million backing from French and Spanish governments; some reports have said the route is being subsidised by as much as £26million over the next four years.

The route opened last month; just days before P&O Ferries halted its service from Portsmouth-Bilbao, thereby closing an important route for people heading to the south-west of France.

While the DFDS Zeebrugge-Rosyth link would seem a perfect match for the Euro initiative – to stop lorries travelling the length of Britain – the firm has not applied for any subsidy and is switching to a freight-only operation. The passenger service will end on December 15, but DFDS will increase freight sailings from each port from three to four a week.

A spokesman said passenger numbers outside summer had not been high enough to continue the service and it was much more expensive to operate than a freight service, with extra staff, marketing and facilities.

Meanwhile, the other cross-Channel option, Eurotunnel, saw traffic jump 17 per cent over the summer, with 533,238 cars, motorbikes and motorhomes taking the train. It also reached a milestone by carrying its 250 millionth passenger on July 21 since opening in 1994.

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