A ferryless ferry firm that was awarded a £13.8million government contract in December 2018 for extra ‘Brexit-resilience’ crossings has appointed a voluntary liquidator and will go out of business owing almost £2 million.
Seaborne Freight began negotiations to run a Ramsgate-Ostend ferry service in 2017 but the service did not materialise on the proposed March 2018 start date.
During the 2018 Christmas period news emerged that Seaborne Freight had been awarded a government contract worth £13.8million to provide extra ferry capacity to UK ports in the event of a no deal Brexit on March 29 – despite having no ferries and no track record.
By January Britain and Ireland’s largest union, Unite, called for then transport secretary Chris Grayling to resign in the wake of the ‘no-deal Brexit’ ferry service contracts.
The £107 million deal with three firms, including Seaborne Freight, was slammed for ignoring the role of Eurotunnel. At the end of the month a Parliament select committee questioned the legality of the government contract awards to the three ferry companies, particularly Seaborne Freight.
In February 2019 the government contract with Seaborne was terminated. The Department for Transport said the agreement has been axed as Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements and the firm’s backer Arklow Shipping has pulled out of the deal.
This month Seaborne lodged a resolution to wind up with Companies House and a document to say voluntary liquidator Quantuma had been appointed.
According to the documents the firm has assets of around £39,000 in computer equipment, furniture and cash.
But it owes almost £2million, made up of £1.2m to trade and expense creditors, a £400,000 loan, £323,000 in directors loans and a £100 corporation tax bill to HMRC.
In the beginning…
The company had been in negotiations with Thanet council over the proposed service since 2017. A start date of March 2018 came – and went- with not a ferry in sight.
It followed an announcement by former Ostend mayor Johan Vande Lanotte in October 2017 that a ‘basic agreement’ has been made for the ferry line.
When asked by The Isle of Thanet News whether a suitable ferry was available for the operation the Ostend mayor said he ‘thought’ there was.
Only one vessel was identified out of three proposed for the route, the former Dover-Calais ferry MS Nord Pas de Calais. To date no ships have been bought or chartered by Seaborne Freight.
The announcement had been made in the run up to the 2018 elections in Ostend, which Vande Lanotte lost.
In April 2018 Thanet council confirmed no contracts had yet been signed with Seaborne but added that discussions were being held with “several parties to consider the future of a potential ferry operation across various routes.”
Then council leader Bob Bayford said work on ferry operations was the priority for Ramsgate Port.
In June 2018 we reported losses at The Port of Ramsgate of £20million had been made since 2010, according to Thanet council’s statement of accounts for each financial year from 2010/11 to 2017/18.
The figures exclude £5million in live export compensation and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.
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