31 July 1998

Bosses of Farmers Ferry launch bid to gain control of rival

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS Ferry bosses plan to spend an unspecified amount money donated by producers to gain control of a competing shipping company. The news comes amid worries that the sheep export trade is insufficient to support two ferries operating from the same port.

Farmers Ferry officials will meet this weekend with representatives of Brinde Ferries which already exports sheep along the proposed Farmers Ferry route from Dover to Dunkirk. The deal is understood to involve much of the estimated £750,000 donated by sheep farmers since Farmers Ferry was set up two months ago in a bid to revive the live export trade.

"I dont think we need to discuss exactly what price it is," said Farm-ers Ferry spokesman Mike Gooding. "At this stage we dont know exactly what the final deal will be."

A source close to Farmers Ferry said organisers were concerned that Continental demand for sheep was too low to warrant two ferries. But Mr Gooding said the aim of the buy-out was to put farmers in control of their own destiny rather than relying on existing exporters.

Brinde Ferries currently operates the MV Caroline, a walk-on walk-off ferry with capacity for about 2500 sheep. The company has also arranged to charter the roll-on roll-off Cap DAfrique – the same ship Farmers Ferry chiefs hoped to charter from mid-August.

Roger Mills, a former operator of the MV Caroline questioned whether buying a ferry company was in farmers best interests.

"There doesnt seem to be any need for buying an existing company with farmers donations. That is not necessary and it does not represent a sound investment to start the business."

Meanwhile, animal rights campaigners have warned that the Farmers Ferry is destined to sail into stormy waters. They have planned a series of protests at Dover over the coming weeks and claim hundreds of demonstrators are prepared to take part.

"Farmers are badly misjudging the public mood towards animal welfare," said Peter Stevenson, political and legal director of Compassion in World Farming. "Whatever short-term gains they get now, its not good for farmers to behave in a way that ignores the concern of much of the public."

Campaigners from other protest groups have pledged to join demonstrations at Dover. &#42