Page last updated at 20:29 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 21:29 UK

Ferries resume as blockade ends

French fisherman
French fishermen had been blockading ports over EU quotas

Cross-channel ferry services have returned to normal after French fishermen ended their blockades of the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne.

Thousands of holidaymakers and hauliers faced disruptions over two days in a dispute over EU fishing quotas.

The blockade was however lifted on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, enabling ferry companies to clear the backlog.

The action ended on Thursday after fishermen reportedly agreed to consider a fresh offer from French authorities.

SeaFrance and P&O Ferries were able to resume an almost full programme of sailings on the Dover to Calais run, while Norfolkline was able to operate between Dover and Dunkirk.

Ferry company LD Lines had to cancel two Dover-to-Boulogne sailings but said its operation would start again at 0700 BST on Friday.

Berthing trials

The ports had been blockaded since Tuesday.

French fisheries minister Michel Barnier has reportedly offered 4m euros in aid to fishermen in the north of France, but has rejected demands to increase fishing quotas.

P&O said ferries started sailing immediately on Thursday, instead of waiting for scheduled sailings, and a backlog of cars and lorries at Dover was cleared by 0830 BST.

The Pride of Dover ferry was taking part in berthing trials to see if vessels could fit facilities at the Belgian port, it added.

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A P&O spokesman said: "It's not an ideal option because it takes about 90 minutes from Dover to Calais as opposed to between three and a half and four hours to Ostend."

He said the firm would not be able to maintain the same level of frequency, but it was "worth a try".

After normal ferry services resumed for most operators on Thursday, passenger Rafla Reszelluska, a Polish builder from north London who had to wait at Calais, said: "I'm very relieved. It's been very frustrating and I have had enough."

And another passenger at Calais, Judith Blatch, 47, from Sudbury, Suffolk, said: "I'm very happy. We have some sympathy with the French fishermen because it's their livelihood, but it wasn't doing the reputation of France any good."

'Worst time'

One of the Calais protesters, Pascal Hamy, 49, said "There have been some concessions but they're not enough.

"What we want to do is work. We're not guilty of causing the problem [for travellers].

"The people guilty of that are the French government and Brussels. It's not us."

The blockade was lifted overnight to allow the backlog of passengers to clear from Calais.

Hundreds of lorry drivers had been queuing on the M20 in Operation Stack - put in place by Kent Police to reduce traffic congestion close to Dover.

Jo Tanner, from the Freight Transport Association, said the blockade had come at the worst time.

"It is costing £40 per hour per HGV and if you look at Operation Stack and the number of trucks it soon adds up," she said.

"Particularly when we have an industry that's already struggling thanks to the recession, thanks to successive fuel duty increases, this is absolutely the last thing that we need."

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Compensation bid after blockades

Mark Darlow, 41, an exhibition contractor from Retford in Nottinghamshire, was due to sail with his father, Peter, from Dover to Calais on Wednesday.

"This is having a huge effect on businesses, not just in the UK but the whole of Europe, this is one of the busiest freight terminals worldwide," he said.

One French union had reportedly tried to extend the blockade to Eurotunnel, but a spokesman for the tunnel operator said the French police would not allow that to happen.

map

French fishing unions have been protesting at ever tougher EU-imposed quotas, and demanding the French government take a stand on their behalf or offer more financial assistance.

On Wednesday, French ministers refused protesters' demands for increased cod quotas, but said they might offer extra financial support.

P&O has already said it is preparing a compensation case against the fishermen, and has estimated the cost to its business at about £1m a day.

Eurotunnel services and trains run by Eurostar have been unaffected by the industrial action.

Extra passenger and freight trains have been running from Folkestone to Calais to deal with increased demand.



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SEE ALSO
French fishermen lift blockades
16 Apr 09 |  Europe
Port blockades temporarily lifted
15 Apr 09 |  Kent
Blockades halt channel crossings
15 Apr 09 |  Kent
Blockaded ferry returns to port
14 Apr 09 |  Kent
French boats block Channel ports
14 Apr 09 |  Europe
EU agrees deal on fishing quotas
19 Dec 08 |  Europe

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