Channel and Biscay news: a welcome early return to UK shores of ex Harwich-Esbjerg’s Sirena Seaways, now on charter to Brittany Ferries to expand their budget ‘economie’ service from Portsmouth to Le Havre (four times a week) and weekly Portsmouth to Bilbao operating with the Visentini type Etreta.
She should, hopefully, prove very suitable for that route and has been fitted with exhaust scrubbers due to the new emission rules. As mentioned last month, Stena Nordica is indeed on the move, from Dublin-Holyhead to Dover Calais! Chartered from Stena to DFDS, this is effectively a ship swap with Dieppe Seaways, now Stena Superfast X. Surely the ships are both better fits in their new roles.
In early January, Groupe Eurotunnel announced their two year fight to be allowed to continue to operate MyFerryLink as an arms length company and co-operative, was coming to a conclusion: the company would have to be sold. The UK competition authorities’ view that Eurotunnel was too dominant, has finally held sway and the ferry company, with its three ships working Dover-Calais, must be sold or cease operating by the height of the summer season.
This news came out at a time when the French authorities were preoccupied with domestic terrorism crises and I wonder if in quieter news times this issue could still become a serious Anglo-French controversy. To be fair to the UK competition regulators, they imply they are looking to the longer term when, unless the ferry companies are profitable, the loss of one company on the route might occur anyway and that would give Eurotunnel (if they retained MyFerryLink) ever greater control over Channel traffic. When SeaFrance owned by SNCF went into liquidation in November 2011, and Eurotunnel bought the ships for €60m, the UK authorities argued then that Eurotunnel had prevented Danish rival DFDS from picking them up cheaply which could have driven down ferry ticket prices. So will selling the ships now drive down ferry prices? Or will it allow the remaining ferry companies to hold their prices up? These circular arguments can make my head spin.
Anyway, a monopoly of traffic under the Channel and a duopoly on it still looks to me like a cosier arrangement for the remaining companies involved. It will be fascinating to see who, if anyone, buys out MyFerryLink. I see three options: six hundred jobs lost, the ships dispersed and closure; a buyout by a new third operator; or perhaps a seamless merger with either DFDS or P&O?
And will we have to wait months to find out or, given the uncertainty, will the end be precipitated much sooner? Apparently shares in Eurotunnel were up on the news of the sale and they can hardly have lost out in the past two years. They will have gleaned much intelligence about the economics of running ferries compared to tunnel trains.
Calais’ port website makes much of a claim they are in fact the principle port gateway to the UK, delivering a full third of its ro-ro traffi c and I seem to recall it was an option that the Calais authorities might have bought the Port of Dover when the UK government had that, surely quite mad, scheme to sell Dover port to the highest bidder.