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June 11, 2012 8:52 pm
The company that operates the Channel tunnel between England and France will take over some cross-channel ferries for the first time after a French court approved Groupe Eurotunnel’s bid for three of a collapsed rival’s vessels.
The Paris Commercial Court on Monday accepted Eurotunnel’s €65m bid for the three ferries belonging to SeaFrance, the ferry operator that collapsed into administration last November. Eurotunnel said it would buy the three ferries – the Berlioz, the Rodin and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais – via a new special purpose vehicle known as Eurotransmanche.
It said it intended to lease the vessels to an operating company.
Eurotunnel has previously suggested the operator might be a co-operative of SeaFrance’s former employees. However, P&O Ferries, which carries more passengers and vehicles across the Dover Straits than any other ferry operator, warned that Eurotunnel’s success raised “profound issues” for the whole cross-Channel market.
“We shall be highlighting to the competition authorities our concern that a level playing field is preserved in the interests of fair trade,” P&O said.
Eurotunnel’s move into the ferry business is the latest episode in a history of bitter competition between Eurotunnel and ferry operators that has unfolded following the Channel Tunnel’s opening in 1994. Ferry operators initially provided stiffer than expected competition for the tunnel after its opening, helping to ensure that traffic through the tunnel fell short of expectations.
Eurotunnel nevertheless survived a period in bankruptcy protection between August 2006 and July 2007 and has emerged stronger. Both SeaFrance and two high-speed ferry operators – Hoverspeed and SpeedFerries – have fallen into administration instead.
Jacques Gounon, Eurotunnel’s executive chairman, said he was pleased Eurotunnel’s “pragmatic approach” had won over the court.
“This will aid economic development and will further support the transport of people and goods between the continent and Great Britain,” he said.
P&O Ferries said it still awaited full details of the court judgement, but it has previously said it would report any purchase of the SeaFrance vessels by Eurotunnel to the European Commission.
The SeaFrance ships are likely to re-enter service on the Dover to Calais route, which is served only by P&O and a joint venture between Denmark’s DFDS and France’s LD Lines. DFDS also operates between Dover and Dunkirk, near Calais.
DFDS and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, LD Lines’ parent, had previously jointly bid for the SeaFrance ships but pulled out after SeaFrance was put into liquidation
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