Ferries eye Dover bid

RIVAL ferry operators P&O and Stena Sealink are preparing to join forces to bid for the Port of Dover to defuse a tense stand-off over the harbour's forced privatisation. The sale could fetch around pounds 70m.

Neither company really wants to own the port, but each is threatening to bid in order to stop its competitor from gaining the upper hand.

"If it must be privatised, the main thing I'd seek is fair treatment thereafter," said Rudolph Agnew, the chairman of Sealink. "We've had no approach from P&O, but there's no reason why we can't work together."

Sources close to P&O said it would consider a joint venture, but both companies denied talking to each other on the subject. However, David Shaw, Conservative MP for Dover, is conducting shuttle diplomacy between them and the Dover Harbour Board to promote the idea.

"It would be very helpful if we could get a consortium bid together using the ferry companies, the management and employees of the port, with maybe the people of Dover being able to buy shares," he said. "P&O and Sealink could take a blocking minority stake to stop take-overs." Any bid by the ferry operators, either singly or in concert, would be likely to spark a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The companies already have experience as port operators elsewhere in Britain, but expressed confidence in the existing management. "Ideally we'd prefer the status quo to continue," said Mr Agnew.

A joint venture would not necessarily lead to a merger of the two firms. Proposals that they form a single company were shelved last year and are unlikely to be revived, as both seem to be enjoying the spur of increased competition.

Other privatised dock companies are not expected to bid for Dover as it has less potential for growth than bulk cargo and container terminals. Sir Keith Stuart, the chairman of Associated British Ports, the country's most successful privatisation ever, categorically ruled out a bid last week. "ABP will not be taking any interest in the Port of Dover," he said.

The port, which is owned by a trust, did not volunteer for privatisation when new legislation was introduced in 1992 because it faced uncertain competition from the Channel Tunnel. Last month, Dr Brian Mawhinney, then Secretary of State for Transport, sent a letter to the port to start a consultation process on privatisation, the first step in exercising the Government's power to force a sale. His successor, Sir George Young, is expected to continue the pressure.

The harbour board reacted negatively to the proposal last week, pointing out that the full effect of the Chunnel has not been evaluated yet, and that new safety regulations for roll-on-roll-off ferries could raise fares and dampen demand. "Such a major asset should not, the board feels, be sold off hastily or at a knock-down price," it said. The port made pre- tax profits of almost pounds 5.1m last year.

The Government moves come amid rising optimism in the ferry business. A combination of the tunnel's teething problems and fare cuts by ferry operators has stimulated demand for the sea route to Calais this summer. Both ferry companies are expected to turn in healthy profits for the full year.

Sealink said last month it had a 27 per cent share of the short sea crossing tourist vehicle market, behind P&O at 43 per cent but still ahead of Eurotunnel at 24 per cent. Hoverspeed, the upmarket carrier, had just under six per cent.

One debt agency suggested last week that Eurotunnel would have to swap pounds 3bn of its pounds 8bn in debt for equity this autumn. Its turnover in the second quarter was just pounds 60m, well below the level needed to meet its full-year projection of pounds 525m.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam