December 4, 2013 / 2:01 PM / 4 years ago

RPT-UPDATE 1-Eurotunnel wins appeal against ban on its Channel ferries

LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) - French transport firm Groupe Eurotunnel, which operates the undersea rail link between Britain and France, has successfully appealed against an antitrust ruling stopping it from also running ferries between Calais and Dover.

Britain's Competition Commission in June issued the two-year ban on Eurotunnel docking its ferries at Dover, citing concerns the company would dominate the Channel crossing with over half the market.

The 50.5 km (31-mile) rail link, which opened in 1994, alone has a market share of over 40 percent.

Eurotunnel appealed against the ban and Britain's Competition Appeal Tribunal ruled in its favour on Wednesday, meaning it can continue to run its three ferries on the Dover-Calais crossing, one of the busiest international seaways.

The case will now go back to the Competition Commission, which will reconsider the case and, as directed by the tribunal judgment, assess whether it has the jurisdiction to review the matter at all. It is not clear when a final ruling will happen, and a commission spokesman declined to comment.

As well as Eurotunnel, which operates its vessels under the MyFerryLink brand, Danish ferry operator DFDS Seaways and P&O Ferries also run boats on the Dover-Calais crossing, competing against the rail link for freight and passengers.

"We are delighted by the Competition Appeal Tribunal's decision which recognises the benefits and practicalities of our presence in the maritime cross-Channel market," Eurotunnel Chief Executive Jacques Gounon said.

Shares in the company were down 0.1 percent at 1355 GMT, outperforming the French bluechip index which was down 0.8 percent.

In publishing its decision in June, the Competition Commission said Eurotunnel's purchase of the three ferries in 2012 was motivated by concerns that rival DFDS would otherwise buy the vessels and drive down prices for customers.

The French antitrust watchdog last year cleared Eurotunnel's 65 million euro ($88 million) acquisition of the three ferries from SeaFrance, a unit of French railway operator SNCF that went into liquidation.

France's Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier welcomed the British tribunal's decision, saying having three ferry operators on the seaway was itself a guarantee for effective competition.

Shares in DFDS were down 5.1 percent at 1347 GMT, against a 1.3 fall in Denmark's bluechip index.

"It's bad for us ... but it does not change our view of the case. We remain very confident in Competition Commission will make the same decision as earlier," DFDS Chief Executive Nils Smedegaard said.

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