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No-deal Brexit ferry firm owns no ships, has never run ferry

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LONDON — A company hired by the government to charter ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit owns no ships, has never operated a ferry service, and has no plans to do so until shortly after Britain leaves the EU.

Seaborne Freight was awarded a £13.8 million contract to operate ferries carrying goods between Ramsgate, UK, and Ostend, Belgium if the UK leaves with no deal in March next year. But a local councillor questioned why the contract had been awarded to a ”shell company” with no trading history and no experience in running ferry services.

Paul Messenger, Conservative county councillor for Ramsgate, told the BBC: ”It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done?”

”Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14 million? I don’t understand the logic of that.”

Read more: Britain to spend £100 million on ferries to ensure key supplies can get to the UK after no deal Brexit

Messenger said he did not believe it was possible to set up a new ferry service between Ramsgate and Ostend by March, when the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. He also said the narrow berths for ships in the port’s harbour mean very few commercial vessels are usable at Ramsgate, and most of them are already in use.

The contract is one of three agreements worth over £100 million which were signed by the government in a bid to avoid chaos and gridlock at Dover, Britain’s busiest port. Leaving the EU without an agreement would mean the UK crashed out of the customs union, a move which would require a significant increase in border checks and which experts say would cause miles-long queues.

Seaborne was established in 2016 and said in a statement to the BBC that its business had been ”financed by the shareholders” during a development phase which involved ”locating suitable vessels, making arrangements with the ports of Ostend and Ramsgate, building the infrastructure — such as bunkering — as well as crewing the ferries once they start operating.”

The government plans to ease some potential pressure by increasing ferry passage from other ports, including Ramsgate, which has not had a cross-Channel service to continental Europe since 2013.

The Department for Transport, which awarded the contract, told the BBC: ”This contract was awarded in the full knowledge that Seaborne Freight is a new shipping provider, and that the extra capacity and vessels would be provided as part of its first services. As with all contracts, we carefully vetted the company’s commercial, technical and financial position in detail before making the award.”

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