The company bidding to start a freight ferry service between Ramsgate and Ostend says it is aiming to begin sailings at the end part of this year – and has now launched a website advertising the route.
Seaborne Freight is a UK company incorporated in April last year by marine consultant Roy Dudley.
This April documents to Companies House revealed eight shareholders. There are 5,300 shares valued at 1p each – making a total of £53
However, according to Belgian press reports this month the city’s mayor Johan Vande Lanotte says financing of the project is complete.
Last October, during the run up to the Ostend elections, Mr Vande Lanotte (pictured) announced a ‘basic agreement’ had been made for a ferry line between Ostend and Ramsgate.
He said the route would start with freight but a passenger service could begin shortly afterwards.
In a social media statement Mr Vande Lanotte said: “It is a guided freight, ie lorry drivers who cross the Channel with their freight. The intention is that three ships will be deployed with six departures a day.”
The mooted March 1 start date came -and went- with no ferry service in evidence. No contract had been signed by Thanet council and there remained the question of which vessels could serve the route.
Only one vessel has been identified as being suitable for use at Ramsgate Port. That is the former Dover-Calais ferry MS Nord Pas de Calais.
The ship, built in 1987, served the route until 2011 when SeaFrance was liquidated. It was then bought by Eurotunnel and leased to MyFerryLink until 2015.
After 2015 it was laid-up and designated for use “for hazardous freight and waste”, before being renamed Al Andalus Express and sent to the Mediterranean.
The two other vessels for the route have not been identified.
Seaborne Freight shareholder Glenn Dudley said: “The service will be for freight primarily and will operate with 3 vessels. There have been minor complications, but this is a very large project and I am afraid that it does take time. Our expected start date with the first ship is still Q4 this year.”
According to Belgian press there are still issues over dredging at Ramsgate with Mr Vande Lanotte saying: “Seaborne Freight has not yet received any guarantee that if they perform these works, they will also be able to use the port. They naturally want more guarantees about this.”
Seaborne has launched a website advertising the freight route, saying it: “addresses an unprecedented demand from the industry for a ‘freight only’ service. Key to the success of the venture is the identification, acquisition and operational management of suitable freight ferries.”
The website claims the crossing times will align with driver compulsory rest periods and Ramsgate will offer drivers direct freight access to the main UK road network.
Jobs for Ramsgate and Ostend Ports are flagged as ‘coming soon.’
In April Thanet council leader Bob Bayford said work on ferry operations was the priority for Ramsgate Port.
He said: “The right ferry operation under the right contract will start to plug the money pit that is currently Ramsgate Port.
“We want to do something about this and the quickest way is through a ferry operation. This would benefit Ramsgate and the whole of Thanet.”
Ramsgate Port has lost a staggering £20million since 2010, according to Thanet council’s statement of accounts for each financial year from 2010/11 to 2017/18.
The figures exclude £5million in live export compensation and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.
Last year Thanet council said the figures included costs which are shared across other areas of the council for the running of its services, rather than being directly incurred in running the port.
This year the port recorded a loss of £1.8million. Expenditure amounted to £2.8 million and income was £1million.
Income at the port includes berthing fees, pilotage, waste disposal, equipment hire and land rental – including to building materials supplier Brett Aggregrates.
Money is also being made through ad-hoc car shipments from GEFCO when Sheppey is over capacity. The 2017/18 accounts for the port include an entry of £37,757.90 income for port stevedoring – the unloading of cargo.
No ferry service has operated at Ramsgate since TransEuropa Ferries filed for bankruptcy in April 2013.
A meeting is due to be arranged between Kent County Council leader Paul Carter, TDC and Ostend representatives regarding port plans.
It had been scheduled for August 23 but has been postponed.
A Kent County Council spokesman said “The County Council has received a request for a meeting but the Leader has prior engagements on the date suggested. We are therefore exploring alternative options.
“Thanet District Council own and manage the Port of Ramsgate and they are taking the lead in discussions with the parties that have expressed an interest in re-opening a ferry service from Ramsgate.
“KCC is supporting TDC in this work which could provide additional resilience to cross-Channel freight traffic.”