Channel rail tunnel company Eurotunnel has been barred from operating a ferry route between Dover and Calais by the UK Competition Commission.
Eurotunnel operates services including the Le Shuttle Dover to Calais car rail service and commenced operating the ferry route in August 2012 after it purchased three ships for a reported GBP52m from Sea France, which has gone into liquidation. The ships were then leased to the new MyFerryLink service, run mainly by former Sea France employees. Eurotunnel reportedly bought the ferries to prevent Danish ferry operator DFDS Seaways, a rival company that runs the DFDS Seaways and LD Lines services, from buying the ships cheaply and then drive down the price of cross-channel travel. P&O is the only other independent operator on the Dover-Calais route.
According to the competition watchdog’s report, Eurotunnel has now increased its market share to over half, which the commission believes could lead to price rises for passengers and freight customers. There is also concern that Eurotunnel’s hand could be strengthened if DFDS is driven off the Dover-Calais route. The ferry crossing cuts across the Dover Strait and is said to be one of the world’s busiest international seaways, which is used by over 400 commercial vessels every day.
Eurotunnel will not be forced to sell off its ferries by the commission, as this would reportedly conflict with a separate ruling from the French commercial court, which ruled at the time of the purchase that the ferries could not be resold for five years, in order to provide stability for employees. However the commission said the company would be given six months to find a buyer for its two largest ferries before the Dover ban is enforced, which could solve the competition problem.
The company is to appeal against the decision and its CEO Jacques Gounon said “This decision by the Competition Commission will reduce the choice of services across the Straits of Dover to the detriment of the consumer. It will inevitably lead to an increase in the price of a crossing.”