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Eurotunnel Sells Off of MyFerryLink

Thursday 02 July 2015

Eurotunnel has disposed of the MyFerryLink passenger ferries to the Danish operator DFDS, but there remains defiant action on the French side to try and secure control of the business.

In an announcement last month Eurotunnel said it had “a binding offer” for the business from DFDS, a Danish competitor on the cross-Channel route.

Details of the deal are scant, but it appears Eurotunnel have granted a lease contract to DFDS for two years for an undisclosed sum, with a 'put option' granted to Eurotunnel to require DFDS to buy the ships in 2017.

The lease was a technical mechanism, as under the terms of the Eurotunnel takeover of the former SeaFrance ferries they are not able to dispose of the ships until June 2017.

The deal comes a year after a sell-off was ordered by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The watchdog claimed that Eurotunnel should be barred from operating the MyFerryLink because the group controlled more than half the cross-Channel market and its share could rise further should one of the other two Dover-Calais ferry operators fold.

Eurotunnel had wanted to sell the business to a workers’ co-operative, SCOP SeaFrance, rather than to DFDS, and said it regretted “that the SCOP SeaFrance has not had the support it needed to be able to present a takeover proposal”.

Eurotunnel announced an exit plan for its ferry business last month, despite the fact that the Court of Appeal upheld the case of SCOP against the closure of the service.

However, Eurotunnel said it made the decision because the CMA had declared its intention to appeal the decision, and Eurotunnel wished to end the uncertainty by selling the two passenger ships.

Eurotunnel would have been forced to close it by the end of July if a buyer had not been found.

“The Eurotunnel Group believes that the constructive manner in which DFDS conducted itself during the recruitment of ex-SeaFrance personnel in 2012 gives hope for the best solution possible with regard to preserving employment, without interruption to services.”

The future of the workers cooperative looks to be in doubt, as their contract with Eurotunnel ceases on 2nd July, and will not be renewed with the new owners of the ships.

The cooperative was placed under court ordered liquidation in France last month due to financial difficulties, a position made worse by a demand from the French rail operator SNCF for reimbursement of €15 million it paid the cooperative as part of the liquidation of the SeaFrance business in 2012.

DFDS have not said a lot, but in a statement last month indicated that they will be taking on less than 200 of the nearly 600 existing staff of the two passenger ferries. The company currently operates one ferry on the route.

Niels Smedegaard, CEO of DFDS stated: "Given the overcapacity in the market, DFDS had originally planned to operate two ships on the route in order to adapt the capacity to the market situation.

"However, following our dialogue with various stakeholders, we have decided to make an offer for part of SCOP Seafrance, and thus attempt to save more than 200 jobs by operating three ships instead."

That sparked wildcat industrial action by the workforce at the Calais port, causing huge disruption, prompting the Nord Pas-de-Calais regional council to enter the fray with a statement that they were prepared to put up €10 million to keep the workers cooperative alive and allow them to purchase the ferries.

"We are for a French platform, and for saving 600 jobs", stated Pierre de Saintignon Vice-President of the council "and we do not understand the attitude of Eurotunnel whose lack of transparency is a concern to us."

Following the industrial action Eurotunnel stated: "MyFerryLink believes that any action or declaration which intimates that the decision taken, after a tender process, to lease the ships to DFDS, could be modified or cancelled is irresponsible."

"In the current context, MyFerryLink confirms that the only option possible to maintain a maximum of jobs is direct negotiations between the Judicial Administrators of the SCOP SeaFrance and DFDS.”

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