Several France-UK routes with Brittany Ferries which had been hoped to reopen in April will not now start until mid-May at the earliest, nor will foot passenger tickets resume in April as previously planned.
The news came as the company confirmed its worst annual results for decades at its recent AGM – however it is moving ahead with a five-year ‘relaunch’ plan and says new research by London-based consultants LEK suggests passenger volumes should return to 2019 levels by 2022.
Apart from freight-only services, Brittany Ferries passengers with their own transport may currently use a weekly Portsmouth-Cherbourg service with the Galicia and a daily Portsmouth-Caen service with the Mont St Michel.
Rescheduled from April, Brittany Ferries is now taking bookings from May 17 for Poole-Cherbourg crossings with the Barfleur, Portsmouth-Saint-Malo crossings with Bretagne and Plymouth-Roscoff crossings with Pont-Aven. It is also accepting foot passenger bookings again from that date. However further postponements cannot be ruled out.
For the time-being the Portsmouth-Le Havre route is still only serving freight.
A company spokesman said: “We very much hope to restart the services in mid-May and are looking forward to welcoming people back on board, but we are waiting for the results of the Global Travel Taskforce [an advisory body to the UK government] report.
“We expect Boris Johnson to give some indications of the way forward on April 5, but the plan for reopening of international travel [outbound from the UK] will, we understand, not be revealed until April 12, so it’s impossible to say until then. We are crossing our fingers.”
He added: “The reality is with the current restrictions in place and the limited staff we have available, we are not able to accommodate all the passenger traffic we would like. At the moment only essential trips are allowed.
“As we don’t have anything like the volumes of normal passenger traffic, and given our public statements of how our finances are performing – it has been a disaster for us – we are having to take steps to minimise our costs and keep the business operating for the years to come.
“We had to take extraordinarily difficult decisions, some of which are unpalatable for both ourselves and our customers, including not restarting some passenger services and not taking foot passengers, as we would have liked. We’re very sorry for passengers but it’s just the reality of the Covid crisis.”
The firm transported less than a third of its usual number of passengers last year, and its turnover was 57% down compared to 2019. Around 80% of its income is usually from passenger traffic, and 85% of passengers are British. Freight traffic has continued but volumes were down 20% last year.
However, based on the LEK study which indicates a strong recovery by next year, and its five-year relaunch plan, Brittany Ferries said in a statement it believes it can “look beyond the current storm with optimism”.
As part of the plan it has identified ways of making savings of some €17-18million a year and it is going greener, with two new liquefied natural gas ships joining sister ship the Galicia in 2022 and 2023.
It can also rely on the continued support of its shareholders, including French farming cooperatives and the regional councils of Normandy and Brittany, the firm said. The French government is also giving relief on social charges for this year only; it has so far not accepted the firm's request to extend this to five years.
Other Channel ferry firms have suffered less than Brittany Ferries through the pandemic, partly as they rely less heavily on passengers as opposed to freight. Routes are still running at DFDS and P&O, though the latter is still not taking foot passengers.
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