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'No-deal' Brexit extra ferry services launched

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London (AFP)

A ferry firm that has signed a contract to ship critical products to Britain in the event of a no-deal Brexit on Friday launched the first of its extra services.

France's will run 20 additional weekly cross-Channel sailings to transport essential goods like medicines.

The first extra service set sail Friday from Portsmouth to Le Havre.

Brittany Ferries is boosting the number of crossings on three of its existing routes between Britain and France under a more than £100-million ($130-million, 115-million-euro) government contract originally shared with two other shipping firms.

With Brexit now delayed -- it was originally due to take place on March 29 -- the company said it was using "its best endeavours" to sell as much of the unused space purchased by the government so save "costs to the British taxpayer".

"While we cannot go into specific details we can confirm that space has already been re-sold on the open market for ferry services operating on 29 March."

The government in December struck deals worth nearly £108 million with Brittany Ferries, Denmark's DFDS and a new British entity called Seaborne Freight.

The contracts committed the companies to lay on additional freight crossings on certain routes to ease pressure on Dover, the busiest of England's Channel ports, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Seaborne contract hit the headlines when it was discovered that it was a startup that had never been involved in this line of work and had no ships.

The government subsequently cancelled the contract.

However, amid political paralysis in parliament over the terms of Britain's departure from the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May last week agreed a delay to Brexit beyond March 29.

A government spokeswoman defended the ferry contracts proceeding anyway, arguing "it is only right that we push on with contingency measures".

"The government's freight capacity contracts run for six months and are a vital part of wider contingency planning," she added.

Meanwhile, a newly-built "Brexit buster" cargo ship will set sail from Dublin for the first time on Friday bound for the Belgian port Zeebrugge -- allowing Irish exporters to Europe to bypass Britain if necessary.

The MV Laureline, a 217-metre short-haul ferry owned by Luxembourg-based company CLdN, follows the launch last year of its even bigger boat to handle a change in Brexit-related cargo shipping.

"The arrival of Laureline at Dublin Port is further evidence of the shipping industry responding to market demand with Brexit upon us," said the facility's chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly.

"We anticipate that demand for direct services between Dublin Port and Continental Europe will increase further after Brexit."

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