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Brexit contingency measures continue to build within the UK’s supply chain with P&O announcing a new Tilbury-Calais ferry service.
P&O’s chief executive Janette Bell said she was “delighted” with the launch, adding that the route would “strengthen” the company’s positions and provide access to a port 25 miles from London.
“The route saves up to 75 road miles compared with the traditional Calais-Dover crossing, meaning that our customers save on fuel and land on the doorstep of London,” she said.
“By prioritising the fast discharge of the ship, the freight can be on the M25 from 05:30, thereby enabling time-sensitive loads to continue their journey before the rush–hour starts.”
It will operate twice-daily during the week and once-a-day at weekends, with capacity for 100 units (trailers) of freight. Some 50,000 units are expected to be shipped in the first 12 months alone.
P&O also operates ferries between Tilbury and Zeebrugge.
Expectations are that its focus will be on time-sensitive markets.
Xavier Bertrand, president of Hauts-de-France, the region encompassing Calais, pointed to the elephant in the room.
“It will improve the fluidity on the Channel, especially in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” said Mr Bertrand.
“The port of Calais and P&O Ferries show their willingness to invest in the future, to offer a wider range of services and to enhance the attractiveness of the French coastline.”
While the service will relieve potential congestion at Dover, Calais has been ramping up its capacity in advance of Brexit. The port has spent €40m and hired 700 additional customs officers. It has also been trialling its Smart system, which uses cameras to scan license plates and match them with export documents filled out online.
News of the new P&O route comes a little over a month on from the UK government’s decision to re-open a tender process for no-deal Brexit ferry capacity.
The decision to re-open the process, following a calamitous effort led last year by the then–minister for transport Chris Grayling, caused raised eyebrows but is part of a wider package.
Those operators wishing to bid have been asked to do so online, while the wider package includes some £2.1bn to boost infrastructure at strategically vital ports.
Last year’s attempts to source contingency capacity before the original 29 March Brexit deadline were scrapped after widespread media outcry.