Ferry services from Ramsgate will begin in March says Seaborne Freight

Ramsgate port and harbour Photo Adam Cowell

Dredging at Ramsgate Port will begin on January 4 in preparation for ferry services in late March, claim the directors of Seaborne Freight.

The firm, which is proposing to run a Ramsgate/Ostend service, says operations will start in late March – to coincide with the UK withdrawal from the European Union – initially with two ships.

Despite prolonged negotiations no announcement has yet been made that a deal has been signed with Thanet council for the route.. A service had been mooted to start in March this year but the date came -and went – with no sign of progress.

But Seaborne has now been awarded a government contract worth £13.8million to “supply additional freight capacity on ferry services between England and Belgium in order to minimise the potential disruption of trade across the Short Straits in the event that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.”

The firm is one of three which received a share of £107million.The others are French company Brittany Ferries, receiving £46m and DFDS with an award of £47m.

The ferry services under the contracts have to be operational by March 29, the day Brexit comes into force.

The aim is to alleviate pressure on Kent’s roads which would come with a ‘hard border’ and could lead to a backlog of traffic, particularly HGVs, trying to access Dover Port and the Eurotunnel.

‘Development phase’

Seaborne Freight 

In a statement Seaborne Freight says directors and shareholders have been working over the last two years on a business plan to reintroduce the Ramsgate to Ostend ferry service from early 2019.

A spokesman said: “During the development phase and pending the finalisation of robust funding arrangements, the business has been financed by the shareholders.

“This phase has included 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.   A work-up phase is part of the programme and training will be provided by a specialist organisation.

“The operational base is located in Folkestone where the Seaborne team is currently based, but will move to Ramsgate as soon as the port has been dredged and the facilities to operate the booking and loading services have been finalised.

“It was intended to start the service in mid-February but this has now been delayed until late March for operational reasons.  This coincides with the Department for Transport’s Freight Capacity Purchase Agreement with Seaborne which is part of their preparations to increase ferry capacity in the unlikely event of a no-deal BREXIT.”

‘Four ferries by Summer’

Seaborne say although operations will begin with two ferries this will “very quickly increase to four by late summer.”

There has been no indication of which vessels are to be used for the route. The port cannot currently accommodate the larger cross-Channel ferries with just one vessel identified as being capable of using the  ro-ro facilities due to the restricted size. This is the former Dover-Calais ferry MS Nord Pas de Calais which currently operates between Spain and Morocco.

Significant dredging work need to take place at Ramsgate Port.

However, members of Ramsgate Action group have questioned the award of the contract to “a company that has no ships, no funds, no identified investors, no employees and no real premises,” and no apparent  phone line for the Belgian end of the route. The group adds: “It is beyond belief that Chris Grayling could approve handing over £14 million of taxpayers’ money in these circumstances.”

A shipping industry insider added that it was “incomprehensibe that neither the Baltic Exchange, nor one of the big six shipbroking companies in the London were approached to advise on such an operation.”

Companies House

It has not yet been made clear what the funding arrangements are for the proposed service.

According to Companies House records the firm has declared fixed assets of £35,169, shares totalling £53, debtors amount due within one year of £6,364 and creditors amount due within one year of £416,607.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “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.”

Port role in Brexit resilience

By Marc Ryckaert via Wikimedia

There has not been a cross-Channel operation at Ramsgate since the collapse of TransEuropa in 2013 which left Thanet council owed an unpaid debt of £3.4 million accrued by the ferry firm in port fees.

Negotiations with ferry service providers since that date have been fruitless.

However, in November Thanet council said the Port of Ramsgate could have the potential to provide enough sailings to divert 3,360 lorry movements per day from the planned Operation Brock queuing system on the M20 and M26.

A spokesman said that a review of the port’s capability had been carried out and, with a £26million investment, Ramsgate has the potential for up to 24 sailings a day.

Some £51,700 in consultancy fees has been spent on marketing and business plans aimed at areas including bringing the ferry service back to the port.

The Port of Ramsgate has racked up a deficit of around £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 the TransEuropa Ferries debt.

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 port running costs.

Read here: 8 proposals for Ramsgate Port that are yet to launch

25 Comments

  1. See my comments on an earlier post on The Isle of Thanet News concerning this item.
    Perhaps TDC will be able to negotiate for the dredging team to dredge both basins thus enabling larger fuel craft for the RSP/Jentex site.

    • How will a RO/RO HGV Freight Only service benefit the businesses of the town/area? These HGV’s will drive off the Ferry and straight out onto the Thanet Way, and as it is purported to be a ‘bookable’ service the outbound will be loaded straight on the Ferry for the outbound trip.

  2. Such a shame that both the harbour and the port have been neglected and allowed to silt up to such a degree, as shown in the photo.

    However, the up-side is that given a few more years, the whole area will have been “reclaimed” from the sea and and can be used to build more houses . . .

    We have seen and heard so many statements about some sort of ferry service starting at some future date and it never materialises that we are now entitled to be a little more sceptical !

    • The photo is rather misleading. At low tide, there has always been an exposed bank of sand in the middle of the harbour.
      The important it, as far as ro-ro ferries are concerned, is how deep is the water in the port?
      According to the latest hydrological survey, there’s 4.6m of water at low tide. According to my I mean chart, it should be 7m. So there would be some dredging necessary.

  3. It can’t be all that silted up- tall ships are able to come in and so can ferries.

    It’s more likely, given that global warming seems irreversible, that the sea will reclaim the port.

  4. Absolute tosh! Did anyone watch the BBC National news last night? It was the lead item! Seaborne apparently have no experience of running a ferry service – and more importantly – NO ships! Also, there are no available ferries in the whole world that Port Ramsgate berths can accommodate! To build a new ferry would cost hundreds of millions and a long time! So, in my opinion there’s not a chance of Seaborne helping Ramsgate in the near future,

  5. Regardless of how this all turns out, the owners and managers of this , and the other contracted companies, will pay themselves hefty salaries, juicy bonuses ,and rock-solid pensions. The financial risk will all be borne by the UK taxpayers. Just like the rest of the Brexit disaster.

  6. Spot on Keefogs! More of our tax money being thrown at some cowboy outfit, who will walk away with millions when this inevitably fails! Why should public money be used on this no hope scheme!

  7. Many of us want Manston Airport to reopen, many more than those moaners who want THANET over run with the problem families of London. This government as I have said many times are completely useless. However they are very good at wasting taxpayers money by helping to keep afloat those who own the Manston Airport site at the moment. They are paying them thousands of pounds each month for NOTHING. Just in case the site is needed act as a lorry park for HGVs due to the mess the government have made of Brexit talks.

    • Who said anything about “problem” families from London? Unless, of course, anybody from west of Birchington, or east of Broadstairs is automatically seen as a “problem”.
      Unfortunately, with all the unfilled vacancies in Care Homes, the NHS, and now on all these new ferries, there will HAVE to be more people from abroad to keep this country afloat. Only a “problem” if you are looking for one.

    • There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that many more people want the airport than don’t. Look at the responses to the PI. Majority against. Look at the TDC No Night Flights consultation. Massive weight of opinion against night lights. Look at the posters in people’s windows: dozens against the airport; I haven’t seen one in favour. Look at the public meetings: 100’s turned up to the NNF meeting in Ramsgate. How many came to a supporters public meeting: none, because there aren’t any.

    • Nobody is moaning. Why would anyone living in Ramsgate want a busy airport to be developed a couple of milees away from where they live?

  8. Crikey, what’s all the fuss about, local councillors afraid of Port of Ramsgate actually providing jobs and an income Thanet district council needs, buck up and get behind this, as if it fails, fingers will be pointing to all these so called local politicians moaning about the potential this project has.

  9. the rumours about a new ferry service being started up between Oostend
    and Ramsgate have been around for 2 years now in Flanders – both ports
    lost money –lots– by the last operator (Transeuropa Ferries) and in Ostend the new Mayor wants firm guarantees before any operation restarts.
    It willbe limited to freight operations so the benefits for
    general commerce will Always be limited. One vessel planned is the former SeaFrance Nord Pas de Calais (1987) which is rather small with capacity for 80 freight units.
    How this type of vessel will compete with the larger recent units on the
    Channel is a big question. In the town of Ostend nobody is waiting for
    the possible transmigrant problem which could come along. Employment?
    20 dockers, 50 policemen? The possible new operator wants to charter in
    tonnage from other shipping companies : I think these who have ships available will ather want to exploit these units themselves.
    Staff at Seaborne Freight include former emplyees of ferrycompanies that fought a serious battle against the Ostend operators in the past.Now they want to be the trusted allies of this port (sic)? Martin Minnebo -shipping correspondent-

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