Cross-channel ferry firm SeaFrance liquidated: court

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The Paris commercial court ordered that French cross-Channel ferry operator SeaFrance be put into liquidation on Wednesday, rejecting two bids to save a firm that employs more than a thousand people.

The court said the company's Calais to Dover services would continue until January 28 next year and that new bids to take it over would be accepted until December 12, but that the existing offers were unacceptable.

French shipping firm Louis Dreyfus Armateurs and Danish ferry company DFDS had made an offer to invest 50 million euros (67 million dollars) in the firm and buy five of its ships for another five million euros.

But the companies' plan would involve more than half of SeaFrance's staff losing their jobs, and the court ruled that this could trigger industrial action that would further damage the ailing firm.

It also said that the offer for the ferries was too low.

The second offer, organised by the CFDT trade union, would have seen the firm turned into a workers' cooperative, but the court dismissed this too, ruling that there was no capital to finance such a project.

Earlier this year SeaFrance management had attempted to buy out the firm, backed by a 160-million-euro loan from the state rail firm SNCF, but this was rejected by the European Commission on competition grounds.

France has challenged that decision, but it is expected to stand.

SeaFrance is the only French-owned firm plying the busy route between France and Britain across the Strait of Dover. Since 1994 it has suffered from competition from the Channel Tunnel.

The 2008 financial crisis also hit the firm hard, and last year it shed 700 jobs and was put into receivership. It currently employs 880 permanent staff, and 200 on short-term seasonal contracts.

© 2011 AFP

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