SeaFrance was officially liquidated after a Paris court rebuffed the latest rescue bid for the heavily indebted French ferry company.
Rival operators moved immediately to plug the gap in the fiercely competitive U.K.-France freight market after the court ruled the takeover offer by the employees of the state-owned shipping line was neither acceptable nor viable.
Danish line DFDS and France’s Louis Dreyfus Lines said they plan to operate two ships on the Dover-Calais route, replacing the SeaFrance service that was suspended in November. The carriers, whose joint $7 million bid for some of SeaFrance’s assets was rejected by the court last year, plan to employ around 300 SeaFrance crew on the two ships.
Separately, Eurotunnel, the operator of the cross-channel tunnel, said it might buy three of SeaFrance’s four ships from the bankruptcy administrator and lease them to a new company, most likely a co-operative of Sea France employees.
“We cannot let the only French [shipping] company in the port of Calais disappear,” Eurotunnel chairman Jacques Gounon told the French newspaper Liberation.
French President Nikolas Sarkozy, campaigning for re-election in the summer, has vowed to save the jobs of the 1,100 SeaFrance employees who will be laid off next week.
P&O Ferries, Eurotunnel’s main rival, said it would report the company to European Union regulators if its plans breach the bloc’s state aid and competition rules.
Eurotunnel, which operates truck and rail shuttles, has an estimated 40 percent share of the cross channel market, while P&O Ferries has around 30 percent. SeaFrance has a 12 percent share of the Calais-Dover route.
SeaFrance, a subsidiary of French state railway SNCF, has been seeking a buyer since the European Union outlawed a $270 million rescue by the French government. The company went into administration in 2010 after amassing losses of $325 million.
-- Contact Bruce Barnard at firstname.lastname@example.org.