Lack of ambition has led to loss of French ferry service

Clive Smith says he would not like to arm wrestle athlete Caster Semenya 		Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

CLIVE SMITH: English pigs? Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

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It came as no surprise to hear that DFDS was withdrawing its ferry service from Portsmouth to Le Havre, little more than a year after taking over the route.

I put it down to poor management and lack of ambition, which will lead to local job losses.

The whole sad story really started back in the P&O days.

The route to Le Havre was always the cash cow, commanding the bigger ships compared to the Cherbourg service.

Things seemed to be going from strength to strength when the chartered Pride of Portsmouth and Pride of Le Havre entered service in 1994.

But this didn’t prove to be the case. These vast ships were not suited to the route, with too many cabins and not enough freight space.

By 2005 they were too expensive to hire and P&O closed the service.

In hindsight, they should have followed Brittany Ferries’ course by building a new ship specifically for the route, like the Normandie of 1992 – still providing sterling service.

Again, lack of ambition.

A private French shipping company saw a gap in the market and, trading as LD Lines, introduced the former Dover ferry Norman Spirit to the link.

Apart from a lack of cabins, she was well suited.

As the route began to prosper a purpose-built new ship was announced. Norman Leader would complement the ‘Spirit’ and offer real competition.

LD Lines pulled out of the new-build, now in Canada and changed its plans moving ‘Spirit’ to Dover, replacing her with a freight ship with minimal passenger space. Poor management.

A short-term solution was the chartering of the Newhaven ferry Cote d’Albatre. But again, she isn’t best suited to the route.

With the takeover by the large DFDS ferry company, the route had a chance to thrive with decent investment.

Lack of ambition meant this didn’t happen – the route lost money and, like the Harwich-Denmark service, it is now closing.

Maybe the route would have stood a chance if Stena Line had taken it on.

But now we’ll never know.