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SeaFrance Bought by Eurotunnel

SeaFrance VesselIt’s been announced that Groupe Eurotunnel SA has decided to acquire SeaFrance, the Dover-Calais ferry operator that went into liquidation at the beginning of the year. The plan is to resurrect the ferry company as a worker-run co-operative this summer. Once again, British holidaymakers will be able to travel to their second homes in France and ferry their cars with them.

The new business will provide jobs for 500 former staff at SeaFrance in an area of France with a high unemployment rate. Plans for the move have been developed by Maritime Nord, the workers’ trade union that first proposed a co-operative last year as the company’s future became more and more uncertain. Re-employed staff under the co-operative will be asked to contribute €5,000 each for their share of the business. The first workers started their new jobs at the end of June.

SeaFrance’s collapse was a blow to the troubled Calais economy, with three ferries being out of action for eight months. Due to this, The Nord-Pas-de-Calais, The Berlioz and The Rodin will need to undergo a technical overhaul before they are returned to commercial service. This will include having their engines and other equipment revamped to be in line with current European Union emissions regulations.

Despite the blow to the economy, the plan to create a co-operative has been controversial, and it’s only been possible with the involvement of Eurotunnel. The company acquired the above three ferries for €65 million, and now the co-operative will lease the vessels. Eurotunnel’s intervention removes a rival bid from DFDS to operate the ferries, which would have seen unwelcome competition to the Channel Tunnel. Eurotunnel claims the reborn SeaFrance will complement its Channel Tunnel business by carrying lorries with dangerous cargo.

However, the co-operative was partially help by former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, who instructed SNCF, the state-owned rail firm that owns SeaFrance, to invest in the co-operative buyout. Now the parent company will be contributing €25,000 for every employee who takes on the co-operative.

Groupe Eurotunnel SA chairman and chief executive Jacues Gounon says that he’s delighted the sensible approach they have taken persuaded the Commercial Court. This will help economic development and will support the transport of people and products between Britain and the continent, he added.

A Eurotunnel spokesman said that their plan is to manage the ferries and leave the independent operation to run them. The co-operative staff, which include former SeaFrance employees, will run the vessels. He also noted that they don’t see militant unions as an obstacle. (SNCF experienced this prior to the ferry operator folding.) Back then, SeaFrance was in the public sector and, therefore, had a public sector union. These workers have been chosen to use their own money to finance the business, so they won’t want it to collapse. They have been made redundant once, he added, and won’t want to lose their jobs again.

The co-operative now puts Eurotunnel in direct competition with UK-based P&O Ferries, which operates between Calais and Dover and carries some eight million passengers per annum. P&O Ferries said in a statement that it’s waiting to see details for the proposals from Eurotunnel. However, this will raise issues for the cross-Channel market overall. They will highlight their concern that a level playing field be preserved to allow competition on a fair basis, it added.




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