Brittany Ferries has joined the battle to buy out struggling cross-Channel operator SeaFrance from SNCF.
The move follows another French ferry operator, Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, pulling out of the running yesterday.The move would give Brittany Ferries, which at present runs services between Portsmouth and western French ports, a foothold on the prized Dover-Calais route, which attracts about 14 million ferry passengers a year.
Brittany Ferries said that its consolidation would create a group capable of competing with P&O, the market leader on the Dover-Calais route, and with Eurotunnel. However, a take-over would leave only three main operators on the cross-channel ferry service.
Jean-Marc Roué, president of Brittany Ferries, said: “We think Brittany Ferries has a real legitimacy to put in an offer to relaunch SeaFrance.”
The French Government, which owns SNCF, has said that it wants to complete the sale to by the end of this month.
The outcome is likely to depend on the number of job losses involved in any merger, particularly with the French Government under press to tackle unemployment.
Brittany Ferries said it would place SeaFrance in a joint holding in which it would take a 75 per cent stake, with SNCF retaining the remaining 25 per cent.
SeaFrance has been badly hit by the global downturn. Last year it recorded record losses of €20 million, with cross-channel freight traffic down 23 percent.
Last month, it announced 650 job cuts - well over a third of its 1,580 workforce.