Buoyant Mersey Docks to keep livestock ban

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The Independent Online
Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, Britain's second-largest port operator, says it has no plans to re-start live animal exports after suffering a bomb threat and protests.

The company, which yesterday reported a 61 per cent jump in profits, suspended live cargoes on its new Ferrylink freight subsidiary launched last year.

Mersey's service between Sheerness and Vlissingen in the Netherlands was to have filled the gap left when P&O, Stena and Brittany Ferries stopped livestock exports.

Mersey, which faced demonstrations and a bomb hoax, said the financial effect on Ferrylink would be negligible. The freight operation was started after the Olau Line, which had contracts with Mersey Docks to run a freight service, pulled out.

Gordon Waddell, chairman of Mersey, said the start-up costs of Ferrylink were fully covered by £1m in compensation it had received from Olau Line for early termination of its contract. The freight service is being expanded from April into a passenger service under a new division called Eurolink Ferries.

Mersey yesterday unveiled annual pre-tax profits up from £20.9m to £33.5m, on turnover up 32 per cent to £129.9m. However, the figures were distorted by the contribution from Medway Ports, bought in controversial circumstances in October 1993.

Medway's contribution to profits was £11.6m, described by Mr Waddell as satisfactory. Excluding Medway, group profits rose 14.6 per cent to £23.4m.

Group cargo volumes rose slightly, to 29.4 million tonnes at Liverpool and to 1.2 million tonnes at Sheerness, with a fall in the amount of coal and scrap handled. However, Mersey still benefited because many cargo contracts have guaranteed minimum payments.

The number of vehicles handled at Sheerness fell by 11,000 to 346,000.

However, the company has signed a 10-year deal with Volkswagen and Audi to handle imports from April, and Hyundai is to move 15,000 cars a year through the port.