LONDON, June 6 Britain's competition watchdog
has barred France's Groupe Eurotunnel from docking its
ferries at Dover for at least two years due to concerns its
purchase of three ferries would allow it to dominate over half
of the market.
The channel tunnel operator branched out into sea transport
last year with its 65 million euro ($85 million) purchase of
three ferries formerly operated by SeaFrance, a unit of French
railway operator SNCF that went into liquidation in early 2012.
The Competition Commission said that Eurotunnel's move was
motivated by concerns that Danish ferry operator DFDS Seaways
would buy the vessels cheaply and drive down prices
for customers. The other operator on the Dover-Calais crossing
is P&O Ferries.
"It cannot be good for competition when Eurotunnel, which
already holds a market share of over 40 percent, moves into the
ferry business-particularly when it did so to stop a competitor
from buying the ferries," said Alasdair Smith, the Commission's
"Customers would lose out from Eurotunnel increasing its
share even further and being able to raise prices on the tunnel
services," he said.
France's antitrust watchdog cleared the deal in November.
The Dover-Calais ferry crossing cuts across the Dover
Strait, one of the world's busiest international seaways which
is used by over 400 commercial vessels daily. It competes for
passengers and freight customers against the Channel Tunnel rail
link which Eurotunnel operates.
The watchdog has now given the channel tunnel operator a
limited period to sell its two largest ferries to one or more
approved purchasers before the ban takes effect. It decided
against ordering Eurotunnel to sell the three ferries as the
French Commercial Court had prohibited a sale until 2017.
A spokesman for the Commission said that given the French
ban on a sale, Eurotunnel would need to appeal to the French
court in order to sell the two ferries. The two vessels will be
barred from Dover for ten years if Eurotunnel does not sell
It also said it was likely that one of the ferry operators
would exit the Dover-Calais route should the Commission not take
action due to excess capacity.
Eurotunnel said it would appeal the decision.
"This decision by the Competition Commission 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," said the company's Chief Executive Officer