Calais in chaos again

Whilst it may not have quite the scale of the strikes on the US West Coast ports earlier in the year, the present disruption at the port of Calais must be having an appreciable effect on the UK’s logistics economy as well as France’s.

The most recent happening is the placing of burning obstacles on the tracks of the Eurotunnel rail line by a group of French ferry workers yesterday, resulting in the stopping of all services through the tunnel for an apparently indeterminate period.

This follows a series of strikes last week which blocked the harbour and prevented ferry operations from the port itself, although the direct effects on the tunnel, which emerges on the French side at Calais, were limited to severe congestion on the roads.

The strikes are by employees of MyFerryLink, several hundred of whom are losing their jobs in a restructuring. MyFerryLink was bought by the Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel in its attempt to expand into the ferry business. The ownership of MyFerryLink by Eurotunnel was ruled uncompetitive by regulators obliging Eurotunnel to sell the ferry operator. In June the MyFerryLink was sold to Danish based logistics and shipping company DFDS who are planning to retain only some of the assets. The consequence has been a number of the employees are set to lose their jobs. The situation is made worse by the fact that MyFerryLink was partly owned and operated by a workers co-operative, many of whom are the workers being made redundant. These are the people engaged in various forms of disruption.

The problems at Calais are made worse by groups of illegal immigrants attempting to secrete themselves on trucks and railway cars in order to enter Britain. This has created substantial disorder on the French-side and delays on the British side as the authorities search vehicles in order to expel the immigrants.

Whilst such disruption is hardly new, it will invariably cause substantial problems for shippers and many logistics service providers. Some freight will be stuck in the queues of traffic around the channel but the biggest problem is coping with the uncertainty that these incidents create. Not only do consignments have to be re-routed, which can be expensive, but it is often unknown when consignments will arrive making scheduling and inventory management much more difficult and expensive.

There will be a positive side however. Such conditions are ideal for the booming emergency shipment companies.