South Thanet MP backs government contract with Ramsgate ferry operator hopeful Seaborne Freight

Ramsgate Port Photo John Horton

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay has backed the government deal with Seaborne Freight for ‘extra capacity’ on a Ramsgate/Ostende ferry service in the event of a no-deal Brexit, despite questions over the firm’s ability to fulfil the contract.

The firm has been awarded a £13.8million government contract  to provide extra ferry capacity even though it is a start-up company with no vessels or track record as yet.

Seaborne say operations will start in late March – to coincide with the UK withdrawal from the European Union – initially with two ships and 200 staff.

But, despite prolonged negotiations no announcement has yet been made that a deal has been signed with Thanet council for the route and today (January 8) Ostend’s new mayor Bart Tommelein told the BBC it was “impossible” that Ostend would be ready by the March deadline and that he will be coming to Ramsgate next week to discuss the situation.

A service had been mooted to start in March last year but the date came -and went – with no sign of progress.

Craig Mackinlay

However, Mr Mackinlay says he is backing the Government’s contract after the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, assured him in the House of Commons today that there will be no taxpayer cash for Seaborne Freight unless they deliver the service.

Mr Mackinlay sought reassurances from the Secretary of State during an Urgent Question on Seaborne Freight tabled by Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald MP, during which MPs questioned the Government about the £13.8m contract.

He said: “If the government were to do no planning for Brexit eventualities, they would be condemned and now they are actually doing sensible planning, they now face derision.

“I’ve met with Seaborne Freight – they’ve shown themselves to be the only interested party over a number of years in running new services between Ramsgate and Ostend and that was even before this contingency planning.”

Chris Grayling Image by Chris McAndrew via creativecommons.org/licenses

In answer to Mr Mackinlay’s question Mr Grayling reiterated the Government will not pay monies to Seaborne unless and until they provide the ferry service agreed in the £13.8m contract.

The Transport Secretary added: “It’s disappointing to hear the Labour Party so opposed to the regeneration of the Port of Ramsgate.

“It’s not so very long ago that the Labour Party represented Ramsgate in Parliament.  They do not deserve, given this negative attitude, ever do so again.”

Photo Brian Whitehead

After the question time Mr Mackinlay added: “I welcome the dredging and improvements now taking shape at the port of Ramsgate at no cost to local taxpayers.

“The Transport Secretary has been absolutely clear: if there is no service there will be no money.

“In the meantime our port will be upgraded and the sea approaches, always subject to extreme silting, will be dredged at somebody else’s expense. This is a regeneration bonus for Ramsgate.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said he doubted the deal was lawful and claims it “violates every current best practice guidance issued by Whitehall.”

Questions have also been raised over how ship and passenger safety surveys, under the International Safety Management Code (ISM Code), can be carried out before ships put to water given the tight timeframe and whether an operating manual and shore office inspection can be produced in time.

However, a statement from Chris Grayling, issued yesterday, says: “The Seaborne contract is subject to the achievement of a range of key milestones including in relation to finalising funding and vessel chartering agreements.

“As with many operators in the sector, it is not uncommon that they do not own their own vessels and will be chartering them through third parties. The department has reviewed their plans for sourcing vessels with the support of external advisers. A number of large institutional investors are backing this service and the government’s contract represents a small part of the overall investment required by Seaborne to open this route.

“These lenders undertake their own rigorous due diligence before making financial commitments, providing a further level of assurance to government. Seaborne and my department are also working closely with Thanet council to ensure that Ramsgate Port is ready to take new services. A programme of work to prepare the infrastructure is underway.”

Photo John Horton

A Seaborne Freight spokesman said: “There are massive commercial sensitivities we have to consider, and manage, on issues such as funding and vessels when handling a large, complex project such as this and as is now slowly becoming recognised through media comments by those with knowledge of our industry the level of information available about Seaborne at this time is quite normal.

“The DfT have made it very clear that before they awarded the contract to Seaborne they had carried out detailed due diligence on us and our plans, under NDA’s of course, and were satisfied.”

Read here: Seaborne Freight: The directors planning a Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service

15 Comments

  1. Is it true that the chairman of seabourn freight shares an office with lord banford owner of J C B who is a large Tory doner.

    • No.
      A chap who works for the solicitors they presumably use is called Mark Bamford. He is certainly not Lord Bamford, nor even his brother with whom he shares a name.

  2. So now the MPs have voted that there can not be a NO DEAL-does that mean the ferries from Seaborne that they did not have, will not be needed and that Manston Airport can get back to being an Airport as it should be and not a truck park.

    • Given the need for more homes, Manston Airport should not be revised as such. Aircraft noise not to mention the pollution would blight Ramsgate.

  3. So the transport Secretary is blaming the Labour party for Ramsgate problems! It’s been a Conservative seat since 2010. Eight years ago Conservatives gained the seat. That’s enough time to put it right, isn’t it?

  4. Of course, if we just dropped all this Brexit nonsense and then carried on as normal, there would be no need for contingency planning for lorry parks or harbour dredging or any of it.
    We brought this on ourselves by pretending that Brexit was a solution to whatever problem happened to crop up. It wasn’t, but some people won’t let it go. So we end up dragging ourselves from farce to farce with no end in sight. Let Brexit die, so Britain can live again.

  5. Craig McMedway strikes again, claiming to do what’s best for Thanet. When he stood up in parliament to back Chris Grayling, it all looked very staged. This is all theatre, nothing about this plan or the company is real. Meanwhile, Craig STILL hasn’t done anything to save our services at the QEQM hospital. We have been asking him since May to raise this matter in parliament and to lobby his own government to stop plans that will see ambulance journey of over an hour to get life saving treatment for Thanet patients. He has raised various other matters in parliament including a memorial 50 pence piece. Why won’t he use his privileged position to fight for Thanet?

  6. RESTART Seriously ? In and around Ostend the discussion about a new
    ferry service rages on. An association ” Restart VZW ” -claiming to be in close contact with the management of Seaborne Freight- calls for DISCRETION and CALM so that the cy. can work in a calm atmosphere to effectively start ferry operations in a couple of months. With two ships : to the former Nord Pas de Calais has been added Le Rif (ex-Caledonia Princess) a former Sealink/Stena Line ferry owned by a Moroccan line. A sister ship (ST DAVID) once sailed between Ostend and Dover for Sealink British Ferries when Sea Containers took over Sealink from the British Governmment in the 80’s . Capacity is some 65 freight units. 1000 passengers. She was completely refitted last year.
    “No sensible cy. owns ferries. They charter them” claims Restart,
    which aims for a mixed service on the long term (rorofreight and cars). On 29 th January a public debate is taking place in Ostend
    about the future of the port there and the possible new link to Ramsgate. In the mean while the new mayor of Ostend will have visited Ramsgate together with specialists to see if there are any guarantees
    for a succesfull new service continuing ater the hickups of Brexit.
    Restart thinks Seaborne Freight is very serious as they started some
    market research and planning some 2 years ago long before the panic
    climate around Brexit in Britain erupted.
    The ferry enthusiasts grouped in RESTART have visited or contacted many ferry companies in the past. Without any result. The work of Seaborne Freight is seen as serious and defended in the local press.

    “In the coming weeks the positive results of this endeavour should be
    clear also to those who beforehand have been negative. We have a lot of
    sensible information which we can’t share right now” says START. The
    financial basis of Seaborne Freight is said to be solid.
    START has a facbook page. The members are mainly ferry enthusiasts
    but no port or ferry specialists nor politicians.

  7. My my, no surprise here. Mackinlay supporting a Tory donors award of a £14 million contract to provide ferries that don’t exist, to be prepared for an event (no deal) that won’t happen! Can someone check to see if this idiot has any links to this mob?
    He’s been awfully quiet recently, but watch him now he’s been let loose on us poor sods of Thanet!

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