Watchdog sinks Eurotunnel’s ferry hopes

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Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel has been banned from running ferry services from Dover after the Competition Commission (CC) ruled the move could lead to higher prices for passengers and freight customers.

The watchdog said Eurotunnel’s MyFerryLink venture would give it control over more than half the cross-Channel market and it had blocked the group’s plans to “protect the best interests of customers”.

Alasdair Smith, chairman of the inquiry group and deputy chairman of the commission, said Eurotunnel had bought three ferries from collapsed operator SeaFrance to prevent rival DFDS/LD from buying them at a reduced price.

He added: “Eurotunnel was concerned that if DFDS/LD obtained the assets cheaply, it could drive down prices for customers.

“The CC also found that one of the three current ferry operators on the Dover-Calais route was likely to exit in the short term, if the CC took no action, in which case Eurotunnel could gain an even larger share of the cross-Channel market.”

Today’s final ruling confirms the CC’s provisional findings, which were published in February, and the watchdog said Eurotunnel will be given a limited time to sell its two largest ferries to one or more buyers to “ensure that all Dover-Calais ferry services are run by companies which are independent from the competing rail link”.

Eurotunnel said it would appeal against the CC’s ban, which it said was “incomprehensible and seriously disproportionate”.

Chairman and chief executive Jacques Gounon said: “This decision by the CC will reduce the choice of services across the Straits of Dover to the detriment of the consumer. It will inevitably lead to an increase in the price of a crossing.”