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A deal between Ramsgate port and prospective cross-channel ferry operator Seaborne Freight is expected to be confirmed “imminently”, the operator told The Loadstar yesterday.

Seaborne services are slated to provide additional cross-Channel capacity and an alternative to Dover, which may witness major congestion in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

But a former seafarer, with 45 years’ experience, 25 of them on Dover-Calais ferries, told The Loadstar he did not see how the port and ferry company would be able to provide a service that was fit for purpose.

“The Ostend to Ramsgate is undoubtedly a route that will interest drivers, but I cannot see it gaining that much interest, largely due to the times involved,” he said.

“And Ramsgate’s claim that it can cater for 24 sailings a day is nothing more than a pipe-dream, when you consider the port’s facilities.”

Both Ramsgate and Seaborne claim a sailing between Ramsgate and Ostend can be completed in four hours. While the seafarer did not contest this, he said the voyage represented just part of the total journey time.

“It ignores turning times, which, based on similar vessels trading in Dover, average around three hours at each port,” he said.

“And, bearing in mind that the mile-long approach at Ramsgate is too narrow for two-way traffic, it ignores pilotage in – another half hour – and the same for pilotage out at both ports.

“This amounts to a 16-hour rotation, so I cannot see how they intend to operate 24 sailings a day – and this is on the presumption that the operation can be run as smoothly as it is at Dover.”

The seafarer added: “Then you have to ask how they intend to schedule this operation. Endless 16-hour rotations? This won’t be popular with truckers, as it means different sailing times each day, which they won’t want.”

Furthermore, the seafarer said, both parties seemed to be ignoring the limitations imposed by Ramsgate’s third berth.

Unlike berths one and two, it operates under a linkspan system, which is only capable of handling a certain type of vessel, of which the numbers available are limited.

“So number three berth will be left open, unless they can persuade DFDS or P&O to lend one of their ships,” he said. “And you can’t use a traditional stern-loading vessel as it would damage, or even destroy, the linkspan equipment on the port side.”

Questions have also been raised about pilotage at the port, with the seafarer suggesting the number of pilots available was limited, leaving larger-scale operations reliant on exemption certification.

At Ramsgate, per the Pilotage Act 1987, exemption certificates can be obtained by masters and first mates on completion of an examination process, which requires the applicant to complete eight inward and eight outward movements, 50% conducted in darkness, on a vessel of similar characteristics to the one they will be sailing.

These movements must be made within a 12-month period prior to the application, with at least half conducted within a six-month window.

“It’s not just a case of picking up eight logged trips. This process needs to be under way now, but there is an obvious hurdle here,” continued the seafarer. “They don’t have the ships, nor do they know what ships they will have, so they cannot be lodging applications for the exemptions.”

The seafarer said that, without exemption certificates, Ramsgate would, at a minimum, need to provide four harbour pilots, and he was unsure it had that number.

The Loadstar has lodged a request with the port of Ramsgate to find out the number of available pilots and is waiting for a response.

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  • nicolette mckenzie

    January 09, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    A very calm, factual summary of possible obstacles to a Ramsgate Ostend ferry service.
    Timetable queries, safety regulations, single vessel access route, pilot issues……the list goes on.
    Something is disappearing over the horizon and it can’t be a Seaborne Ferry because there are none. It must be hope.