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Seaborne Freight is hoping to have completed its dredging at the port of Ramsgate by the end of the month, but questions still remain overs its capabilities to offer capacity in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
A spokesperson for the ferry company told The Loadstar the work, which commenced on 3 January, was expected to bring the port back in line with its original parameters.
“We are dredging to approximately 6.5 metres and the method being used involves the silt and sediment leaving on the receding tide and being dispersed at sea,” said the spokesperson.
“Completion should be by the end of January, however the process is very weather dependant and that timescale could change.”
Once dredging is complete, the port can cater for vessels using three berths, one capable of handling 140-metre vessels, and the others 180-metre vessels.
The Loadstar understands Seaborne would initially be looking to operate two vessels, although there is still uncertainty over where it will acquire these.
“Schedules will be published in due course. However, each vessel will carry out four crossings daily (two rotations),” said the spokesperson. “We are planning increase to four vessels in due course.”
Both Seaborne, which is leasing the dredger Jetsed, and Thanet District Council, which runs Ramsgate port, have said Seaborne would be picking up the cost of the dredge.
Previous charges associated with Jetsed have been around £14,000 a day, meaning the Ramsgate process could cost anywhere up to £500,000.
Meanwhile, speculation is mounting over a perceived delay in confirming Seaborne’s vessel chartering and whether this is linked to uncertainty over whether these ships will actually be needed.
“It [Seaborne] doesn’t yet know if it has to provide these services, so it cannot go out and charter these vessels until it knows it has a requirement,” said one source from the ship chartering community.
The source suggested chartering without such certainty could see Seaborne “go bust like the others” – a reference to other recent attempts to operate services out of Ramsgate.
Steve Coombes, chairman of the port of Ramsgate action group – a community organisation comprising more than 1,000 local residents worried about losses at the port – argued that this emphasised the problem surrounding the Department for Transport’s decision to contract with Seaborne.
“The DfT is pre-buying tickets in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the need this would create to run services into alternative ports to Dover.
“But while DFDS and Brittany [the other two contracted parties] have the capacity to offer such services, Seaborne is pre-buying for non-existent ships.”
Furthermore, Seaborne’s spokesperson confirmed, the operator has yet to enter into a formal agreement with Ramsgate, which also raises questions over why it is paying for the dredge.
However, the spokesperson sought to play down concerns.
“The draft contract is agreed and will be signed at the appropriate time. This is quite normal.”