Tourists stranded by French fishermen blockade


Tens of thousands of tourists and hauliers have been stranded by a blockade of Channel ports by French fishermen.

Victims included families returning home from the Easter weekend, whose sailings were cancelled as the protests escalated.

The fishermen, who are protesting against EU fishing quotas, started in Boulogne, before moving along the coast to Calais and continuing up to Dunkirk.

P & O Ferries, which has 34 sailings each way between Dover and Calais, has been the worst hit. It accounts for more than half the traffic across the channel.

The ferry company was forced to cancel its services from 3pm. One of its vessels is blockaded in Calais, two vessels are stuck in the Channel and the remaining four are held at Dover.

Many of those stranded will be among the 130,000 passengers P& O carried across the Channel over Easter.

“It is bad enough for tourists, but hauliers account for 55 per cent of our business,” a company spokesman said.

“This could drive some of the small trucking businesses to the wall, especially in the current economic climate.

“The fishermen have made their point, but it is not only them who are having a hard time.”

The blockade has also hit Sea France, which runs 20 services a day between Dover and Calais.

LD Lines, a smaller carrier, was forced to cancel its afternoon service from Boulogne to Dover.

The disruption led to police in Kent having to run Operation Stack, which entailed using sections of the M20 to hold lorries until the dispute is settled.

In Boulogne, militant fishermen – some flying the skull and crossbones – used Napoleonic style underwater cables to stop ships breaking through the blockade.

Patrick Haezebruck, spokesman for France’s Confédération Générale du Travail, said the action was aimed at President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government and the European Union.

“We’re taking tough action, for as long as it takes, because small-scale fishing is dying while fish stocks are flourishing,” he said.

Meanwhile Marc Perrault warned the blockade could be a lengthy one.

“The dispute could go on for days, weeks or months – as long as it takes for the government to see sense.”

Others threatened to use force to prevent ships getting through.

Richard Ashworth, the Conservative euro-MP for south east England, demanded the French fishermen halt the blockade.

“People across southern England will be thinking “here we go again,” he said.

“Every time the French blockade a port it makes our lives across South East England miserable – that’s why the French do it.

“British fishermen have as much right as French fishermen to complain about the failings of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

“We do need to overhaul the CFP and the Common Agricultural Policy but it is the French government that often acts as a roadblock to reform.

” It is not fair for French fishermen to take out their frustrations on us and turn the M20 into a lorry park.

“It is time the French government put an end to this. Our transport links should never operate at the mercy of French fishermen.”