Monday, August 31, 2015

Calais RoRo Freight and Passenger Ferry Row Flares as New Migrant Camp Announced

Double Trouble Persists in Northern France
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – Problems escalated once again in Calais and surrounds over the August Bank Holiday weekend with a fairly low profile protest by the unhappy ex ferry workers whose contract ended in July when Eurotunnel sold two of the MyFerryLink RoRo freight and passenger ferries to DFDS Seaways (a story told here seemingly endlessly). Despite the protest taking the form of two small lifeboats mooring across the entrance to Calais harbour it seems there was sufficient clearance for other vessels to pass between them but this was prohibited by the port authorities.

The port management view was in sharp contrast to those of Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart who said the port had been taken ‘hostage’. At least one of the captain's of the ferries trapped inside the harbour said he would have had no problem sailing but was being refused permission to leave. As other vessels waited outside the harbour DFDS rerouted sailings to Dunkerque and P&O ships went to Boulogne sur Mer.

Sailings gradually returned to normal later in the day but thousands of passengers were affected by the protest and social media sites were alive with their complaints at the seemingly ineffective attitude of French authorities. Despite many of the British media describing the protesters as ‘strikers’ this is plainly not the case. DFDS’s offer of employment to many of the ex MyFerryLink workers who were employed as subcontractors by SCOP was refused out of hand unless all of them transferred to the new owners.

Eurotunnel, as MyFerryLink’s owner the former employer of the SCOP disrupters, issued a statement regarding Calais today without mentioning the situation, choosing to concentrate the more serious issue for the region, the migrant mass exodus. With plans revealed to construct a camp for up to 1500 refugees for this winter, funded with €5 million of European Union money, the Channel Tunnel owners spoke warmly of the French and UK governments’ response to the migrant crisis and its impact on transport activities.

Jacques Gounon, Chairman and Chief Executive of Groupe Eurotunnel SE, thanked the Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Minister for the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve after their visit today saying they had provided a practical and immediately effective response to the security needs of the terminal at Coquelles and that a long term solution had also been found and applied to the SNCF-Reseau owned freight yard at Calais-Frethun. Plans for the new camp were apparently hatched during a visit to Calais on August 20 when Msieu Cazeneuve met British Foreign Secretary Theresa May.

The Prime Minister and Interior Minister were accompanied today by European Commissioners, Frans Timmermans and Dimitris Avramopoulos, and it was during the trip that the announcement to build the new camp was made. The decision was greeted by some and criticised by others. Mayor Bouchart said she welcomed the facility but felt it was insufficient in size to deal with the problem adequately, saying it was a ‘pretty feeble gesture’ and that it would take 25 not 5 million Euros.

Critics of the scheme also said it resembled the notorious Sangatte camp, closed down over ten years ago and that this type of facility did nothing to resolve the reasons for the crisis.