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UK signs ferry deal to keep freight moving – updated

[ April 24, 2020   //   ]

The UK government has signed a tripartite pledge with France and Ireland to maintain critical freight ferry routes during the Covid-19 crisis, along with support for Northern Ireland domestic services.

A freight and passenger support package covers 26 routes between Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden, including Eurotunnel, along with seven routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, services to the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, said that essential supplies are continuing to flow well, but operators are facing challenges as fewer people travelling means less capacity to move goods.

The Department for Transport has also announced that thousands of volunteers, vehicles, aircraft and ships from the transport sector have been placed on standby in a new ‘Transport Support Unit’ (TSU) to assist frontline responders during the crisis.

Assets made available include four fixed-wing aircraft owned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, including a Boeing 737 and arevailable for tasks including moving emergency patients and medical supplies.

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) gave a cautious welcome to the plan. Director general Robert Keen, director general of the trade association that represents UK freight forwarding companies said: “We hope the package of undefined measures on 26 routes between Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden, including Eurotunnel, is enough to ensure the cross channel freight sector is able to provide sufficient capacity and resilience over the coming days and weeks.
“It is also good to hear the government acknowledging that the ferry operators are facing challenges. Hopefully it shows that the government is listening to those on the front line of international supply chains.”

Later, in a BBC interview, P&O ferries owner Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said that the company had applied to the UK government for £150m of funding, adding that it needed £257m in total aid to avoid collapse. At the time of writing, he had yet to get a response.

He said that passenger traffic had collapsed and that the company had furloughed 1,400 workers under the state scheme whereby the government meets 80% of their wages. It had taken seven ships out of service.

 

 

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