January 7, 2019 / 3:39 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-UK opposition Labour Party chides government over ferry contract

(Adds comment from Seaborne Freight, background)

LONDON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour Party on Monday criticised the government for awarding a 14 million pound ($18 million) contract to a ferry company with no ships to provide backup freight cover in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Labour's transport spokesman, Andy McDonald, said the transport ministry had failed to carry out proper checks on the company, Seaborne Freight.

"The Department for Transport's claim that it carried out due diligence is increasingly incredible given the mounting evidence of a lack of relevant expertise or experience," McDonald said.

"Our economy depends on these trading routes continuing to function yet [Transport Secretary] Chris Grayling is prepared to rely on amateurs in the event of a no deal," he said.

"A no deal scenario would be terrible for our transport networks under any circumstance but the sheer incompetence with which preparations have been handled is alarming in the extreme."

Seaborne Freight Chief Executive Ben Sharp rejected the criticism and said the company had been working on providing a ferry service for the last two years.

"Collectively, the directors and investors of Seaborne have significant experience in operating vessels and ferries alike - in particular ferries in the Channel," he told Reuters.

"Seaborne is no threat to the United Kingdom because they are not paying us anything until we deliver. So, what is the problem?"

Currently, Britain's EU membership means that trucks drive smoothly through border checks within the bloc. But in a no-deal Brexit, even a few minutes' delay at customs for each truck could mean vehicles backed up at ports and queued on feeder roads on both sides of the Channel.

Britain awarded contracts worth more than 100 million pounds in total to three shipping firms to provide extra ferries. The other two are established operators - French firm Britanny Ferries and Danish group DFDS. (Reporting by Jonathan Saul; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton)

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