Brittany Ferries chairman Jean-Marc Roué and a group of 20 or so vegetable farmers claim that they “freed” one of the company’s ferries from a union blockade in the French port of Ouistreham on 9 May.
The company said in a communiqué that the group had taken control of the car ferry, Mont Saint Michel, which they claimed was being held hostage by the dockers, enabling it to sail from the Norman port to the company’s home port of Roscoff in Brittany.
The vessel, which operates on the company’s Caen/Ouistreham-Portsmouth line, had been held in port since 5 May by dockers working for a company controlled by the ferry operator who are demanding a 4% pay rise.
Brittany Ferries described the farmers who had taken part in the blockade-busting operation as “shareholders” in reference to the ownership of the company by a number of agricultural cooperatives.
It said that what they had done reflected their frustration over the dispute at Ouistreham, which it said was causing the company “colossal losses” at a time when it was struggling in a difficult financial environment.
Their action has been condemned by a leading seafarers’ union, which claimed today that they had committed an “act of piracy” by failing to respect port security and safety rules and intervening in an industrial dispute.
Brittany Ferries told IHS Maritime on 11 May that the port of Caen/Ouistreham was still being blockaded by the dockers and that the company’s plans to switch to the port of Cherbourg had been frustrated by supporting action from their colleagues there.
A spokesman said talks were continuing with the unions involved but that, in the meantime, crossings between Caen/Ouistreham and Portsmouth had been cancelled until the morning of 13 May.
Passengers were being directed to the company’s other lines, he said, but the company’s freight business was being severely affected.