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Port reopens after blockade

Services to Calais and Dunkirk running normally

[April 16, 2009]

Ferry services from Dover are almost back to normal after French fishermen called off their blockade of the ports at Calais and Dunkirk.

P&O Ferries and SeaFrance services to Calais and NorfolkLine services to Dunkirk are all running normally after the blockade was lifted at 7.30am.

P&O crews worked into the early hours to clear a backlog of more than 1,000 vehicles at Calais.

However, the blockade is still in force at Boulogne, so LD Lines is only running services to Dieppe.

A ferry left at 12.30pm and is due back at 9pm, and tonight's 6pm crossing is expected to go ahead.

The protest began on Tuesday, leaving thousands of UK holidaymakers and hauliers stranded abroad.

Operation Stack was brought in on the M20, causing delays and disruption across Kent as drivers were forced to find an alternative to the motorway.

Now P&O Ferries, whose business has been severely hit by the blockades, says it plans to seek compensation from the French government.

The firm is also considering whether it could use the Belgian port of Ostende as an alternative when Calais is blocked, and sent its ferry Pride of Dover there today for berthing trials.

Ostende is about 50 miles further up the coast than Calais and is about three and a half hours away from Dover, whereas Calais is 90 minutes away.

And only two of the seven ships that P&O runs from Dover might fit into the dock - Pride of Dover and Pride of Calais.

But company spokesman Brian Rees said: "This disruption all the time is a huge cost for us, a huge cost for our commercial customers and terrible for the tourists.

"Why should we suffer this continually, tie up seven vastly expensive ferries and have hundreds of crew sit there idly?"

Director of communications Chris Laming told BBC Radio 4: "There needs to be some kind of political solution to this.

"France has a legal obligation under the EU treaty to keep that border open for the free movement of goods and people.

"We would like the British government to put pressure on Europe to bring France to the table to hammer out an agreement to keep the border at Calais open at all times."

The fishermen are protesting over EU cod quotas, which are there to protect dwindling cod stocks in the North Sea.

They want the amount of cod they are allowed to catch to be increased, but are now considering an offer from the French government of four million euros (£3.5 million) in aid, to compensate them for days when they cannot work because they have reached their limit.

But union representative Stephane Pinto said: "We do not want money but the right to work."

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By Sarah Linney