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Monday, May 20, 2019

Cap FinistereReturning from their £multi-million exhaust reconfiguration to comply with emissions regulations, externally they may have changed only a little, but to my eye two of Brittany Ferries’ vessels have a new style about them.

Cap Finistere is perhaps the better looking of the two. She has taken up her Portsmouth-Bilbao/Santander service and seeing her here at Portsmouth I note for all the £millions spent it does not mean the exhaust plume seems any less visible.

Normandie on her Caen route is not improved in her appearance by the boxy looking funnel (a hint of HMS’s Ajax and Achilles of Battle of the River Plate fame…?), but overall she is still an elegant member of the Brittany Ferries family. Compared to some companies, Brittany Ferries’ designers excel. The chartered Baie de Seine, ex Sirena Seaways, has never looked better or sleeker than her innovative colour scheme of their Economie brand.

French chic is one thing, but French style labour and trade union behaviour rather another. It struck Brittany Ferries yet again in early May after several months of industrial quiet if not exactly peace. It is relevant to remind ourselves that Brittany Ferries commenced in business with the backing and involvement of the Breton farming community as a means of improving access for their produce to market in the UK and boosting rural tourism at home and with great success over the years. The company has grown to be one of France’s premier fleets with Britain its principal market.

So in May when Brittany Ferries’ Mont St Michel on the Caen (Ouistreham)-Portsmouth service was blockaded by dockers demanding a 5% pay hike and missed several sailings causing great upset to customers, passenger and freight, and looming losses for the company, something snapped. It must have so incensed the Chairman and some of the shareholders (several of them Breton farmers) that some twenty of them plus the Chairman undertook a Hornblower style cutting out action, boarded the ship and sailed it off to a friendlier harbour, Roscoff.

Baie de Seine Of course, the mythical British Nelsonian-like character undertook actions against the French, whereas this was Frenchmen against Frenchmen, or Bretons against Frenchmen, or perhaps Normans vs Bretons. Anyway, I guess a confrontation between furious Breton farmers and French dockers with a grievance is a hard contest to call. As was to be expected, the dockers were annoyed about the ’cutting out’ and are bringing up issues like safety legislation and state law: were the farmers trespassing , breaching port security without ‘id’, and was the ship safely manned when she sailed? But as I write the issue seems to have calmed down and thankfully all services are operating.

Given the cut-throat nature of competition between operators and ports, it seems hardly credible that there are still cohorts of workers or union representatives who think it is in their long term interest to treat customers like captives and hold companies, in a shaky fi nancial condition, to ransom. The ether is full of reports that once loyal Brittany Ferries customers have had enough of this treatment.

Another Brittany regular, Barfleur, has recommenced Poole-Cherbourg sailings with little visible sign of her emissions treatment. An MAIB report just out, refers to last July when she was entering Poole harbour and made contact with a chain of the ‘resting’ Sandbank chain ferry Bramble Bush Bay. The chain and its hydraulic drive had to be replaced while Barfleur received minimal damage. The MAIB found the ship’s speed over the ground when turning at very low water caused a predictable squat effect which drew the chain ferry toward the ship. The report recommended clearer instructions as to ship’s speed in the conditions and better communications on the bridge.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - July 2015 Issue
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