Grayling defends giving Brexit ferry contract to company with no ships

FILE PHOTO: A Channel ferry sails from Britain towards France, January 20, 2016 before Britain's referendum on European Union membership - REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

By Andrew MacAskill and Jonathan Saul

LONDON (Reuters) - The transport secretary has defended awarding a 14 million-pound contract for shipping goods after Brexit to a new ferry company that owns no ships.

The government last week awarded three contracts to charter extra ferries to ease congestion if the United Kingdom fails to secure a trade deal before leaving the European Union in March.

The smallest contract was won by Seaborne Freight, a British business that has never previously operated a ferry route, raising concern about whether the new service would be ready.

"I make no apologies for supporting a new British business," Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told BBC radio on Wednesday. "We have looked very carefully at this business. We have put in place a tight contract to make sure they can deliver for us."

He added that he believed channel ports would be able "to operate normally in all Brexit circumstances".

But the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, and the risk of a no-deal Brexit is growing -- a nightmarish prospect for many businesses, which are now planning for an economic shock.

Finding extra ships - especially vessels that transport trucks - to work new routes across the Channel will be vital if the main terminals of Calais in France and Dover and Folkestone in Britain are clog....

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