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Calais: French strikers threaten to up the ante

Ben McPartland · 1 Jul 2015, 17:07

Published: 01 Jul 2015 17:07 GMT+02:00
Updated: 01 Jul 2015 17:07 GMT+02:00

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French strikers showed little sympathy for the thousands of truck drivers and tourists stranded on both sides of the channel on Wednesday as the they threatened to up the ante.

Workers from MyFerryLink battling to save their jobs have blockaded the port of Calais with two ferries since Monday leading to absolute "mayhem" on both sides of the Channel.

But things could be about to get worse with the French workers contract to run the MyFerryLink boats coming to an end at midnight on Wednesday and union leaders promising more action.

The head of the Syndicat Maritime Nord union Eric Vercoutre, who has been a spokesman for the strikers, has threatened to up the ante on Thursday and Friday, which could see them again try to block the Channel Tunnel.

Vercoutre says the thought of riot police intervening to break up their blockade of Calais does not scare them.

That could happen after midnight on Wednesday when the sailors will no longer have the right to occupy the MyFerryLink boats.

Earlier this week Vercoutre, the spokesman for the strikers said promising "to block everything" if they didn't get their way and has also warned of a "summer of much disruption."

On Wednesday British police were forced to close off sections of motorway to park some 3,000 trucks waiting to board ferries to France on Wednesday as striking ferry workers blocked the port of Calais for a third consecutive day.

One section of motorway was full with 3,000  trucks and around half of a second section with capacity for another 2,300 was also filled as part of a contingency plan named "Operation Stack".

UK Prime Minister David Cameron got on the phone French President François Hollande to discuss the ongoing crisis and the British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts was set to meet port authorities in Calais.

The British Road Haulage Association's chief executive Richard Burnett will not be impressed by the French strikers' threats of further action and complained the situation was turning into "absolute mayhem".

"The UK and French governments must acknowledge their responsibilities to all Port of Calais users, move in and act. If this means deployment of the armed forces then so be it," he said.

"Let's get this desperate mess sorted out now and talk about a long term solution afterwards. The scale of the current situation has to be seen to be believed," he said.

Ellis Evans, a Welsh truck driver, told The Local that he's been stuck in queues for nearly nine hours. 
"There are trucks as far as I can see in front of me, and the queue is five miles long. And people are saying it's the hottest day of the year - the sun is right above us - it's not the kind of day you want to be stuck in a little tin box."
He'd heard that he might be waiting up to 48 hours, with no facilities of any kind around, not even toilets, and while he'd heard that people were giving out water, he was yet to see any.
Despite suffering under the heat, Evans said he had some sympathy for the French strikers in Calais. 
"I can sympathise with them, they're losing their jobs, the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. But they're damaging local business and commerce, and there is a bit of animosity from some people stuck here towards there cause," he said.
Peter Cullum from the British Road Haulage Association told The Local on Wednesday that the French government should act as the travel chaos was causing a security threat in a country already on high terror alert.

"I can't understand why they are not invoking this to keep traffic moving. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is a security issue. At the moment people are stranded all over northern France.

He accused the MyFerryLink workers who have blockaded the port "of using typical French tactics to gain attention". 

"The French government now needs to make a statement about what's going on," he said. "It's getting silly now and no one can gain from this.

SEE ALSO: Travellers left to curse 'striking French' over Channel chaos

Story continues below…

Teams of British coastguards were deployed to hand out some 5,000 bottles of water and 750 snack meals to truck drivers stuck for hours in the long tailbacks in sweltering temperatures.

A ticketing system is being implemented and only drivers with tickets can enter Dover itself.

"We sincerely regret the impact to the travelling public, freight and the Dover community of a situation that is beyond our control," a Port of Dover spokesman said.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely in liaison with our ferry partners and the Port of Calais in order to resume normal operations as soon as possible," he added.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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