Monday, April 27, 2020

Government Support for Ferries Gets a Cautious Welcome from Freight Forwarding Association

Details of Further Aid Still Awaited
Shipping News Feature

UK – The government has been working during the Prime Minister's absence to try and get business in the country back to some semblance of normality. The efforts made so far have however met with a somewhat mixed reception but a funding boost for the RoRo ferry sector has received a cautious welcome from the body representing the country's freight forwarding community.

The British International Freight Association (BIFA) giving a cautious welcome to Friday’s announcement of a broad package of support measures for ferry routes between the UK and Northern Ireland, as well as the promise of more to prop up services between the UK and mainland Europe.

The initial package of support, worth up to £17 million, is being funded by the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. It will be made available to operators so that they can continue running freight services on five sea routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic. UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

”Essential supplies are continuing to flow well, but operators are facing challenges as fewer people travelling means less capacity to move goods. Today’s action will help ensure we have the freight capacity we need across the UK. This funding will help ferry operators protect our supply chain and maintain the flow of critical goods across the Irish Sea and throughout the Union.

The support maintains the viability of the Cairnryan to Larne and Belfast RoRo services, and was welcomed by Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack who said he knew how vital the busy services in and out of Cairnryan are, and the fact they are essential to the economies of both Northern Ireland and the South West of Scotland.

This however was not the only announcement, with a government promise to also support 26 other ferry connections between Britain and eight other European neighbours, although Ireland itself was a notable absentee from the list. What was specified however was also support for the lifeline freight and passenger routes between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, and the Penzance-Scilly ferry. Robert Keen, director general of BIFA, the trade association that represents UK freight forwarding companies said:

“We welcome the government support on these key ferry routes to ensure essential goods, food and medical supplies keep flowing into the country.

”Given the critical importance of ferry services to the European trailer services operated by freight forwarders that belong to the association, 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.”

The government says it is already in talks with the French authorities, presumably with a view to cost sharing, none of the current batch of cross channel carriers are owned by UK groups. One only has to look further into Europe to see that, without such government support, services may well face permanent closure, as has happened earlier this month to the Stena Line Trelleborg – Sassnitz route.

Photo: The fastest sea crossing currently available between Northern Ireland and Scotland the Cairnryan to Larne service is always popular with freight companies.