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Scuffles Break Out as Truckers Protest Delays at Dover

trucks
Trucks queued and waiting at an airfield outside Dover (Minister for Transport Grant Shapps)

By The Maritime Executive 12-23-2020 09:10:00

A French ban on inbound ro/ro traffic from Britain has ended, but the disruption outside of the key ro/ro port of Dover intensified Wednesday, with tailbacks lengthening and truckers scuffling with police over the terms and timing of boarding cross-channel freight ferries.

On Sunday night, France temporarily closed its ports to ro/ro ferry traffic from the UK, hoping to prevent the spread of a mutated variant of COVID-19 that has emerged in southern England. Based upon modeling, British scientists believe that the variant may be as much as 70 percent more infectious than the base version of the virus. The cross-channel ferry closure has stranded thousands of trucks and cargo shipments outside of Dover. 

In a deal brokered Tuesday night, the French government agreed to lift the closure if Britain would test truckers for COVID-19 before allowing them to board cross-channel ferries. The UK government has mobilized about 170 military servicemembers to Dover to carry out the testing, but truckers have complained that the process has been too slow and unclear. These concerns - combined with a shortage of toilet facilities for about 5,000 waiting truckers - have raised tensions, leading to confrontations, scuffles and at least two arrests near the port. 

"We see no tests coming, no water, no food, we are crammed on top of each other," said Vanessa Ibarlucea of the French National Road Haulage Federation, speaking to CNN. 

The disruption may be a preview of the difficulties to come on January 1, when Britain's exit from the European Union takes full effect. The EU and UK are still locked in difficult negotiations over the terms of a post-Brexit free trade agreement; the deal's prospects are uncertain, as the two sides have deadlocked over fishing rights and industrial subsidies.