Ferry operator wants millions from Portsmouth City Council in import row

DEMO Anti-animal export protesters at  Portsmouth Continental Ferry Port in 2009
DEMO Anti-animal export protesters at Portsmouth Continental Ferry Port in 2009
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SHIPPING firm Celtic Link Ferries is demanding millions of pounds from Portsmouth City Council in a row over animal imports.

But the authority is willing to go to court to prove it doesn’t have to pay up.

The Irish firm and the council are in mediation over a claim of loss of business, after disagreements over the transportation of live sheep from France through the city’s ferry port.

Although the company has dropped its demand from £8m to £6m, it looks like a court battle is on the cards.

Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘A settlement looks unlikely – if it fails we’ll go to court. They think we should pay them, but we have a bill outstanding for £152,000 they haven’t paid us.’

The argument centres on the council’s charge for allowing Celtic Link to transport live animals through the port for slaughter in the UK.

Although the practice is legal, animal rights campaigners staged mass protests against the practice in 2009, and the council levied a charge of £5,000 per truck of 10 animals or more.

Councillors admitted they didn’t want the trade to continue in the city.

It said its charge was to pay for increased security which would be necessary because of public demonstrations against the practice. Celtic Link threatened a legal challenge to the levy and the council reduced its rate to £2,345 per truck.

The firm stopped using the ferry port in November 2009, but believes cash it paid to the council for its contract and for lost business over the period, should be paid to it.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘It’s a legal trade, but there are additional costs which came to us as a result and we charged extra for that. They knew about the charges before they wanted to come here but haven’t paid them.’

Despite repeated calls and emails, Celtic Link failed to comment.