British government cancels Ostend-Ramsgate ferry plans

The British government has cancelled a plan to install a new ferry crossing linking Ostend and Ramsgate, which was intended to relieve some of the pressure expected on the port of Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union at the end of next month without adequate trade measures in place, British exports heading for the EU would have to undergo strict new import checks on the European mainland. The main crossing from Dover would be overwhelmed – a situation the Ramsgate-Ostend ferry was intended to alleviate.

Instead, the contract with Seaborne Freight to operate the ferry, worth ₤13.8 million (15.77 million euros), has been cancelled.

The British transport ministry said the decision had been taken when Seaborne’s backer, Arklow Shipping, had backed away from the deal. But Seaborne’s contract had come under severe criticism for other reasons: the company owns no ships of its own, and has never operated a Channel ferry service.

“This just shows that the new city council and the port authority of Ostend were on the right track when we demanded hard economic guarantees,” new mayor Bart Tommelein said in a joint statement with councillor Charlotte Verkeyn and post authority CEO Dirk Declerck. “We have for the time being no confirmation from the British government that they are in discussions with other parties. If that is the case, we will hold to our earlier decision: we are in favour of a new ferry line, but only with the necessary financial and safety-related guarantees.”

In January this year, mayor, councillor and CEO travelled to the UK to meet with Seaborne, the port of Ramsgate and the county of Kent. Even then, Tommelein had doubts about the viability of the project.

“Because the company is not meeting the agreed deadlines, and still cannot give the guarantees requested,” he told Het Nieuwsblad at the time. “We are positive towards a link with Ramsgate, if it offers an added value to our city. We have made our conditions clear, and insisted that we are not about to step into an adventure for which we might later be presented the bill.”

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