Sea Containers refuses to allow live animal exports

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The Independent Online
Sea Containers, the owner of the port of Folkestone, has rebuffed a plea by a debt-beset cross-Channel freight ferry company to transport live animals to the Continent from the port.

The abortive request came from Meridien Shipping, whose two freight vessels ply the route to Boulogne with less contentious cargo, but which is at the heart of the French seamen's blockade because of its use of low-paid Polish sailors.

A Sea Containers' spokesman confirmed that its subsidiary, Folkestone Properties, had rejected the controversial request. A spokesman said last night: "We are very concerned about the effect of involving the port of Folkestone in this business.

"The carriage of livestock for export to the Continent is a highly-charged, emotive subject and this trade would cause mass disruption to the port."

Sea Containers also believed that sanctioning the move would have endangered its personnel at the port and other port users.

As well as owning the port, Sea Containers runs the only passenger service between Folkestone and Boulogne - its Hoverspeed catamaran service. Sea Containers would not confirm that Meridien owed it significant sums of money, although the small ferry group is rumoured to be heavily in debt to the port of Boulogne.

There were some suggestions last night that Meridien, whose boats have been physically attacked by French seaman worried about job security, might have received a takeover offer from a business group dependent on obtaining permission to transport live animals.

A Meridien operations manager said: "It does appear someone may be interested in purchasing, but it has only happened over the past 48-72 hours."

It is understood Meridien feels the route is not viable through freight only and also wanted to set up a passenger service.

The European Commission is investigating claims by a third ferry company, Folkestone Boulogne Ferries, that Sea Containers has blocked its efforts to set up a passenger service to stifle competition to its Hoverspeed service. Sea Containers has vigorously denied the allegation.

Earlier this week, Shepway Chamber of Commerce confirmed it was sounding out Sea Containers about whether it would consider selling the Folkestone port.