Fresh questions have been raised about the readiness of a UK company awarded £13.8 million (€15.3m) to run no-deal Brexit ferry services after it was accused of copying part of its website from that of a takeaway firm.
The terms and conditions section of the Seaborne Freight website was found to contain a section saying: “It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order.”
The page, which has since been edited, also informed “users” that they were “prohibited from making false orders through our website”.
It also warned that it would seek compensation if it suffered losses “incurred as the result of hoax delivery requests”.
Seaborne was one of three firms awarded contracts totaling £108 million (€120m) last week to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain pulls out of the EU, despite having never run a Channel service.
The British Department for Transport (DfT), which has insisted that the company was properly vetted before being given taxpayers’ money, said the section had been “put up in error” and since corrected.
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) January 3, 2019
Tom Watson, the UK Labour deputy leader, said: “Seaborne Freight. No ships, no trading history and website T&Cs copied and pasted from a takeaway delivery site…”
Fellow UK Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, a supporter of the Best for Britain group, added: “This is beyond a joke.
“It’s not just that the Government have panic hired a firm with no ships to conduct ferry services.
“That firm has literally nothing prepared to suggest the £13.8 million handed over to them is a sound investment.
“They’ve seemingly copied and pasted their terms off a takeaway fast food website, and their login portal sends you back to Google.”
On Wednesday, British Transport Secretary Chris Grayling defended the contract award to the firm, saying it was an example of the Government “supporting new business”.
Seaborne aims to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate in Kent to the Belgian port of Ostend, beginning with two ships in late March and increasing to four by the end of the summer.
It was established two years ago and has been in negotiations about running freight ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend, but no services are currently running.
Narrow berths in the port mean there are few suitable commercial vessels available.
A spokesman for the firm said: “Seaborne Freight (UK) Limited (SFL) is currently making preparations across its business for re-introducing the Ramsgate to Ostend ferry service and has been working on the project for the past two years.
“Naturally these preparations include ongoing updates to its pre-launch website, including T&Cs.”
A DfT spokeswoman added: “This section of the terms and conditions on the company’s website was put up in error.
“This has now been rectified.”