Tuesday, January 26, 2016

RoRo Freight Ferry Seizure Brings Calls for Military Response While Operation Stack Under Discussion

Proposals to Move French Migrant Camps and UK Truck Rest Sites Continue
Shipping News Feature
FRANCE – UK – Despite the migrant situation at the French coastal ports continuing to make headlines for all the wrong reasons it seems the French authorities are still incapable of dealing adequately with the situation. This week saw hundreds of refugees storm the Port of Calais from their temporary homes in the ‘Jungle’, the camp which has been so widely publicised of late. A large proportion, said to be around 50 in number, managed to board the P&O RoRo freight and passenger ferry Spirit of Britain and occupy the ship for a time, preventing her sailing. In a statement P&O said:

"There were no car passengers on the ship when the incident occurred and at no point did the migrants have any direct contact with any of our customers. We have called on the French and British governments to review and improve security at the port as a matter of urgency to ensure that there is no repetition of this incident."

In the confusion the police resorted to firing water cannon at the crowd and according to Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, 35 people, including 26 migrants and nine activists, were arrested. M Cazeneuve went on to say the French and British authorities had worked together to minimise disruption at both port and Channel Tunnel sites and were determined to maintain law and order.

Despite the government claims that both military and gendarmerie had supported riot police, for some months the view of the road haulage community, particularly British and Irish, seems to be that too little was being done and that some proposed plans to deal with the situation, such as the option of a new camp near Dunkirk, would do little to resolve what is a difficult situation. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) is demanding more military intervention in the light of continuing attacks on drivers approaching Calais, and the invasion of the P&O ship prompted RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett to say:

"This shocking breach of security clearly shows that the migrant mayhem in and around Calais is not being tackled. This latest episode has made the headlines, but the many incidents of attacks and intimidation faced by our British drivers on a daily basis are going unreported as, depressingly, they are now being regarded as routine. It is now time for the authorities to acknowledge and meet our demand for the French military be deployed to secure the Port and its approaches. I am now publically calling on government to join my call for this decisive action. The time for debate has passed and we need immediate action. It is now surely only a matter of time before our worst fears become a reality and a UK-bound truck driver is killed."

The Calais situation has frequently had various knock on effects back in Britain, not least heavy fines for drivers who were unaware of stowaway migrants in their loads. The most visible sign of any disruption to the normal flow of French bound traffic through problems with ferries or Tunnel is the imposition of Operation Stack which sees hundreds of trucks stranded, often for many hours with no access to facilities for the drivers, strung out along the M20 in Kent.

Operation Stack was implemented on a staggering 32 days during 2015, this supposedly introduced as an emergency only measure following a port strike in 1988. Since then the delays and congestion have grown steadily worse and this year saw Stage 4 implemented for the first time, closing the motorway in both directions. In December Highways England put two proposed lorry area sites offering secure, facilitated parking, out for public consultation and lobby groups are now putting forward arguments for and against the possible developments.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has thrown its weight behind the proposal for Stanford West, rather than Stanford North, having dismissed the old Air Force base at Manston, which can be used in the interim, saying the runways location and local road infrastructure make it unsuitable. It says the favoured site could accommodate the 3,600 lorries held in stages 1 and 2 of Operation Stack and could be directly linked to the Stop 24 services, which has existing facilities for drivers. Natalie Chapman, FTA’s Head of Policy for London and the South East, said:

“It is vital to find a permanent solution to Operation Stack to prevent the chaos we saw on the M20 last summer. Highway’s England’s proposed site at Stanford West is close to the motorway and near enough to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel so that trucks can be quickly released when capacity is available.”

The FTA believes the second option, Stanford North, would cause issues for local traffic, even with suggested improvements to the B2068. Public exhibitions detailing the two sites and four ways in which they could be used (from full-time to emergencies only) were held throughout December. The consultation has now closed and the FTA has submitted a detailed response supporting the Stanford West option.

Photo: Migrants huddle for shelter aboard the Spirit of Britain with, inset, a statue of General Charles de Gaulle, defaced by protestors.