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The UK government has been criticised for contracting a company without any ships to charter ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Seaborne Freight was awarded £13.8 million contract to operate freight ferries between Ramsgate in the UK and Ostend, Belgium—one of three deals, signed without a tendering process, worth a total of £107.7 million. Brittany Ferries, a French company, and DFDS, a Danish company, were the other two.

Seaborne Freight is due to operate the route from March onwards. However, the company was established only two years ago and, as well as not currently owning any ships, has never previously operated a cross-channel ferry service.

Paul Messenger, a Conservative county councillor for Ramsgate, was critical of the deal, saying: “It has no ships and no trading history so how can due diligence be done? Why choose a company that never moved a single truck in their entire history and give them £14m? I don’t understand the logic of that.”

UK government awards £13.8m ferry contract to company with no ships
Credit: King's Church International

The company said that it had been financed by shareholders during a development phase that involved locating vessels, building infrastructure, and making arrangements with the ports involved.

The Department for Transport said: “This contract was awarded in the full knowledge that Seaborne Freight is a new shipping provider, and that the extra capacity and vessels would be provided as part of its first services. As with all contracts, we carefully vetted the company’s commercial, technical and financial position in detail before making the award.”

“It’s a new start-up business, government is supporting new British business and there is nothing wrong with that,” transport secretary Chris Grayling told BBC Radio 4.

In another odd twist, Seaborne Freight’s website appears to be using copy-and-pasted terms and conditions intended for a food delivery company, and a fake login portal in the form of a .jpg picture of username and password fields. The picture links to google.com.

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