CITY leaders who faced a claim for millions of pounds in a dispute with a ferry firm have settled out of court.
Portsmouth City Council has written off a £154,000 debt owed by Celtic Link Ferries in unpaid port charges which resulted from a long-running row over the export of live animals from the city’s port.
In return the firm has agreed to drop a court claim for millions of pounds it said it had lost after one of its ships was seized at the height of the dispute.
Celtic Link Ferries had been using the council-owned ferry port to export live sheep.
The city council brought in huge charges for the export of live animals in 2009 after animal rights campaigners staged mass protests.
The council, which does not have powers in law to ban exports, levied a charge of £5,000 per truck of 10 animals or more leaving from the city’s port.
The council claimed the fee was necessary to pay for increased security should the animals escape or further public demonstrations take place against the practice.
But some saw the size of the fee as a deliberate attempt to put firms off shipping live animals. Celtic Link threatened a legal challenge to the levy and the council reduced its rate to £2,345 per truck.
The council sued Celtic Link in 2009 over debt of charges to use the port, including berthing and service charges, which were not paid in October and November of that year.
Months later, in March 2010, it seized one of its ships, Norman Voyager, in an attempt to recover the costs.
The shipping firm – which has since stopped using the port – did not dispute the debt for the charges themselves.
But argued it lost more than £8m as a result of the seizure of its vessel. The Irish shipping company later reduced its claim to £6m. That claim has been dropped after the port charges debt was written off.
Council Leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘We are pleased with the settlement, it’s protected the city and the council from further legal action and we’re glad to draw a line under the whole affair.’
The council leader said he would not stop live animal exports if another firm decided to export animals from the port.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: ‘It is a legal trade and we are not allowed to ban it, whatever our personal feelings.
‘The council has to obey the law – we don’t have the ability to stop a legal trade.’
Celtic Link was unavailable for comment.