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Ferry operators ‘need urgent support to save routes’

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been urged to act to prevent companies from collapsing.

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Confirmation is being sought on the job retention scheme for seafaring companies (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Confirmation is being sought on the job retention scheme for seafaring companies (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Confirmation is being sought on the job retention scheme for seafaring companies (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Ferry companies and port operators need urgent support to stop routes being axed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Scotland’s Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has said.

He said the lockdown has led to significant losses in recent weeks and warned companies may soon have to make “difficult commercial decisions”.

A joint letter from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments has urged UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to take action to prevent companies from collapsing.

Suggested measures include relaxing competition rules to allow ferry operators to work together and confirming seafaring companies can take advantage of the coronavirus job retention scheme.

The letter also asks if freight capacity can be bought from ferry lines operating in the Irish Sea.

Mr Matheson said: “My officials and I have kept in touch with ports and ferry operators over the past few weeks and they have expressed substantial concerns with their operations over this difficult period.

“I believe that without further intervention operators will need to take difficult commercial decisions which could be avoided, and that it will be extremely difficult to recover from that after we make it through this crisis.

“Current reductions in freight traffic are also a serious issue in their own right.

“There is a strong case for the UK Government to do more to support this vital sector during these unprecedented times and I look forward to their response on this important matter.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We recognise how challenging this period is for the transport sector and encourage all firms to make use of the further changes to business support, announced today by the Chancellor, helping make funds easier to access for more companies.

“We’re committed to working with the devolved administrations and industry leaders, to offer the support they need and help provide certainty for workers.

“We will continue to directly engage maritime companies and associations to tackle these challenges.”

PA