Major Channel ferry operator SeaFrance has been liquidated by a court in France, and the news follows speculation before Christmas that it may not survive. Around 1,000 jobs have been lost – including 127 in Britain, at the port of Dover.
The Tribunal de Commerce decided SeaFrance’s fate after the European Commission ruled that a 200m Euros (£176m) bailout by the French government was illegal. SeaFrance employees gathered outside the court building carrying banners that said, “If Joan (of Arc) saved France, why didn’t Sarko save SeaFrance?” Last week, President Nicolas Sarkozy said trying to save the 880 jobs was his “duty”.
There is still some light left at the end of the tunnel, however, as Eurotunnel is supporting an eleventh hour attempt by a cooperative to help prevent SeaFrance keep afloat. In the meantime, anybody with an advance SeaFrance booking will receive a refund.
A bid by SeaFrance management to buy out the firm, backed by a 160-million-euro loan from state rail firm SNCF, was blocked last year by the European Commission on competition grounds.
Sailings by SeaFrance between Dover and Calais were suspended in November.
SeaFrance’s troubles started a few years ago. It went into receivership in 2010 and its company’s ferries carried more than 3.5 million passengers a year on the Dover to Calais route.
A spokeswoman from SeaFrance said: "SeaFrance is sad to announce that the Tribunal de Commerce in Paris has made the decision to liquidate the company.
"Despite the best efforts of all parties, the court came to the difficult conclusion that none of the options available to it were financially viable.
"Provision has been made to ensure that all customers with pre-existing bookings will receive refunds."