The cross-Channel ferry operator P&O shipped more freight for customers in July than at any month in its modern history as it benefited from the French ferry workers’ strike and migrant chaos.
As P&O’s rival DFDS was hit by industrial action in the port of Calais, freight traffic backed up the M20 from Dover causing misery for holidaymakers and lorry drivers.
The situation was exacerbated by attempts by migrants to storm the Eurotunnel freight terminal on the French side of the border.
With 5,000 lorries stuck on the M20 for as long as 24 hours, P&O rushed back into service a freight-only ferry, the European Seaway, to help relieve the jam. The ship took on customers from the Eurotunnel and from DFDS, triggering a lucrative stream of extra business. The result, according to an email to staff from the operator’s chief executive, Helen Deeble, was that P&O Ferries carried an unprecedented 123,000 lorries across the Channel in July: “more… than in any previous month in our modern history,” Ms Deeble wrote.
The email adds that the Dubai-owned P&O carried 1.03 million passengers on the Dover-Calais route last month, making it the busiest July since 2004.
Referring to the reintroduction of the European Seaway, she said: “Since being introduced in the middle of the month, this additional ship has helped relieve the pressure on other services and alleviate the backlog in Operation Stack.”
Operation Stack is the M20 queuing system implemented by Kent police to cope with the Calais blockages.
P&O has been keen to stress throughout the crisis that its Calais operations remain open for business, with 58 sailings to and from France every day.
Despite its efforts, many businesses have been badly affected by the transport chaos, particularly those with perishable or short-order goods, including Scottish shellfish companies exporting live produce to France and Spain. At its peak, the freight industry was calculated to be losing upwards of £750,000 a day.
In her email to staff, Ms Deeble said: “The experience of the last few weeks makes one point very clear: demand for cross-Channel travel is only going to increase.”
The company declined to comment on the document.