Concerns grow over Seaborne Freight contract

 

The chorus of concerns over the Government's £13.8m contract with Seaborne Freight Ltd has increased as more information comes to light on its potential role, preparedness and the trading history of its chief executive.

Seaborne Freight became synonymous with the Government's troubled preparations for Brexit after it was revealed this company which had been commissioned to provide support ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit had no ferries.

Channel 4 News has since revealed that the firm, which plans to operate shipping services from Ramsgate to Ostend in Belgium, will have a big role to play in security at the Belgium port.

A memo seen by Channel 4 News stated that the security of the site is in the hands of Seaborne Freight.

Seaborne Freight has said 'a security plan for Ostend will be in place for the commence of operations'.

However the necessary preparations even if it were to hire a security firm represents another major task and cost outlay as it seeks to be ready for Brexit day at the end of March.

Companies House records state that the firm has declared fixed assets of £35,169 and shares totalling £53. It also has a debtors amount due within one year of £6,364 and a creditors amount due within one year of £416,607.

The firm has also paid out £81,778 in consultancy fees to directors.

Ramsgate Action Group said it was 'very, very concerning that a start up company should be responsible for this without giving evidence they can actually executive the level and quality of security necessary'.

On top of this the company's website has a terms and conditions page that appeared to have been copied and pasted from a food takeaway service.

The page stated: 'It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order.'

It went on to say the company would seek compensation if it suffered losses 'incurred as the result of hoax delivery requests'.

Transport Network also discovered that the address of the company given on the website was the address of its lawyers and has yet to hear back regarding the official trading address of the firm. According to reports, the firm's operational base is located in Folkestone.

The company had also promised in a report to potential investors last year that detailed port agreements for Ramsgate and Ostend had been agreed; however no contracts have been signed.

Thanet District Council, which runs Ramsgate port, said it was still in discussions with the firm. The last firm to operate freight services from Ramsgate - TransEuropa - collapsed in 2013 owing £3.3m to the council.

The past career of Ben Sharp, Seaborne Freight’s chief executive, has also been highlighted in reports and on social media.

The former Royal Navy submariner was managing director of a chartering company named Mercator, which was forced into liquidation by HM Revenue & Customs in 2014 over a significant tax bill.

He is also managing director of Albany Shipping, which appears to not be operating. The firm's last accounts showed debts of £93,000 and debtors amounting to only £98.

Mercator International’s accounts for 2013 show that it owed all of its creditors a total £1.78m. None of the money owed to the taxman was repaid, the Times has reported..

Reporters have been briefed that the contract payment would be made in arrears, with nothing going to the company until some time after freight operations started.

The Seaborne deal was part of £103m Brexit preparations from the Government to build extra capacity in cross channel freight services in the event of a no deal resulting in customs checks causing queues.

Another two much more sizeable contracts were awarded to the DFDS of Denmark and France's Brittany Ferries.

Under the contracts with these much more established firms, some money would be paid even if their services are not used, Transport Network understands.

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