The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has strongly rejected an idea discussed by senior UK government ministers at a recent emergency committee meeting of closing the Channel Tunnel overnight to combat migrant incursions.
The shutdown proposals followed an incident last week in which a migrant walked almost the whole length of the tunnel without detection before being arrested by UK police, bringing Eurotunnel’s security procedures under close scrutiny.
“It’s a knee-jerk reaction on the part of government ministers,” the FTA’s international affairs manager, Donald Armour, told Lloyd’s Loading List.com. “Their priority is, of course, UK security and the government is obviously focusing on passenger traffic with the peak holiday season at the moment.
“But on the other hand, they are not looking at the implications of disrupting freight. And even though supply chains, in many cases, can be flexible, switching goods to other modes or routes is not always feasible. On top of that, they haven’t consulted those such a move would affect.”
Noting that the overnight period was a busy one for freight, Armour stressed that a shutdown wouldn’t only hit Eurotunnel’s truck shuttle service.
“Most of the big, heavy long-distance freight (train) traffic runs through at night, when there aren’t as many passenger shuttles or the Eurostars. That is when the line is that much clearer. For example, it would affect car exports, people like Jaguar Land Rover. A lot of their production goes into Europe for sale so it wouldn’t just be import freight (to the UK) that would be affected, but exports as well.”
Eurotunnel chairman, Jacques Gounon, has reportedly written to the head of the UK delegation to the Channel Tunnel intergovernmental commission warning that in the event of an overnight shutdown being imposed, the fixed-link operator would claim compensation of at least ￡200 million annually.
Commenting on the apparent lull in migrant infiltration over the past week or so, which has allowed Eurotunnel services to return to normal, Armour said:
“It's certainly true that there haven't been any incidents in the past 10 days or so and of course that’s very welcome. This may be a result of the 120 extra riot police that the French have put in place and the extra mile of fencing, topped by razor wire, around Eurotunnel’s French freight platforms.”
He added: “Let’s hope this is the beginning of positive times for Eurotunnel traffic,” before sounding a note of caution: “What we (FTA) are worried about is a resurgence in the protests by ex-MyFerryLink staff, as the dispute remains unresolved, and of the repercussions we saw earlier this summer and the return of Operation Stack.”
Seamen from the Syndicat Martime Nord union continue to occupy the two vessels that Eurotunnel has leased to DFDS. A draft agreement drawn up by France’s Transport minister has made little headway, and liberating the vessels and the freight capacity they provide depends largely on DFDS improving its job offer to MyFerryLink’s redundant workers.
“This prolonged period of traffic disruption has demonstrated just how stretched capacity is on the Dover strait, as well as the over-dependence on Calais,” Armour said. “In ‘normal’ conditions - excluding the migrant crisis and industrial action - it only takes a technical incident in the Tunnel or bad weather in the Channel to put the UK’s supply chain under serious strain.”