Approach to buy Channel port

BY MARTIN FLANAGAN

and THOMAS BLARD

Shepway Chamber of Commerce, in tandem with the Boulogne chamber, is sounding out Sea Containers about whether it would consider selling the port of Folkestone.

Jeremy Ward, chief executive of the Shepway chamber, said the aim was to see if the trade association could run the port and help to set up a conventional ferry service between Folkestone and Boulogne. At present the only passenger service is Sea Containers' catamaran, and Mr Ward said: "We need to find out whether Sea Containers would be prepared to sell and get some ballpark figures about how much the port would cost. Our eventual aim is to re-establish a bigger passenger service because both ports are dying commercially." It is understood that Shepway would seek finance for the project from the European Commission, local councils and trade bodies.

A spokesman for Sea Containers said the company was aware of Shepway's interest and would consider any proposals.

French civic and commercial authorities support extension. Annie Wable, deputy mayor of Boulogne, said: "We have lost the people we called the `no passport', who used to make a day return trip. It has been a big commercial loss."

Meanwhile, Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport, is to decide this week whether to investigate claims that Folkestone Boulogne Ferries (FBF), the fledgling British ferry company, has been blocked from using Folkestone by its owner, Sea Containers.

FBF, incorporated in 1993, claims it has been stopped from setting up a service because Sea Containers wants to prevent competition to its catamaran.

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