P&O sues French for £10m over disruption at Calais ferry port

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The Independent Online

P&O, the ports and ferries group, is seeking £10m in compensation from the Calais port authority after technical problems meant that the company was forced to cut down the number of sailings to the French town.

The disruption was due to problems with one of the bridges that is brought down from the land to meet incoming ferries. A bridge collapsed earlier this year, leading to Calais port officials to order inspections of all such bridges - reducing the number of ferries that could dock.

P&O said it had to cancel 14 per cent of its sailings on the Dover-Calais route as a result, at a cost of £10m. The company's claim has just been presented to the port authority, which comes under the Calais Chamber of Commerce, and the case could end up in the courts. The route is now back to normal.

The difficulties deal a further blow to P&O's already struggling ferries business. In the first half of the year, the ferries operation made a loss of £16.6m, although this was an improvement on the £19.9m loss recorded a year earlier. The company insisted that the benefits of a cost-cutting programme were coming through.

Robert Woods, the chief executive, said: "Good progress has been made with the implementation of the fundamental business review [for ferries] and we remain on track to achieve a total profit improvement of £50m per annum from 2006."

In April, P&O introduced a new fares system for ferry passengers, modelled on the ticket pricing used by airlines. The fare charged responds to the level of demand and there is greater flexibility about when people can travel. Eurotunnel has introduced a similar fares system. P&O said that, given the Calais problems, it was not possible to tell how the new fares regime had gone down with passengers.