Channel Tunnel shut as ferry workers block French port of Calais

Firemen inspect the Eurotunnel tracks after workers set fire to tyres on them, disrupting services.
Firemen inspect the Eurotunnel tracks after workers set fire to tyres on them, disrupting services.REUTERS

CALAIS, France (REUTERS) - Ferry workers on Tuesday threatened to continue their protest on Wednesday after blocking Calais' port for two days, forcing the closure of the Channel Tunnel linking France and England for several hours.

The ferry workers on Tuesday blocked the tunnel's entrance by setting fire to tyres thrown onto railway tracks.

It is the second time they have shut the tunnel in less than a week, causing chaos for trucking firms and holidaymakers.

More action was planned for Wednesday, trade unionist Eric Vercoutre of the MyFerryLink works council said.

Workers at ferry service MyFerryLink are trying to prevent job cuts after their company was sold to a Danish firm earlier this month. MyFerryLink was previously owned by Eurotunnel, the company that operates the undersea cross-Channel rail link.

Eurotunnel chief executive Jacques Gounon was due to meet French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron on Friday, Vercoutre added.

"We want to make the French, British and Belgian governments understand that if a solution isn't found to save our 600 jobs, there will be a lot of disruption this summer," Vercoutre said.

"When the mobilisation ramps up, we'll block everything, which could disrupt Eurotunnel," he warned.

Eurotunnel said on its website: "Our passenger service is temporarily suspended due to a breach of our terminal boundaries."

Strike action by around 400 workers last week caused major traffic jams of lorries.

Calais is a magnet for migrants, many from troubled parts of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, who use it as a jumping-off point to try to get across to Britain.

The chaos of the past week has seen an increase in attempts to stow away on trucks heading across the Channel.

A Reuters reporter in Calais saw dozens of lorries jammed up on the motorway leading to the port on Tuesday.

Strikers barred access to the port, which looked largely empty inside.

Just three passenger cars were waiting at customs.

"This is not a very nice thing to happen to us," Stanley Shakespeare, a retired Londoner, said as he and his wife tried to head home after a holiday in Spain.

"We love France and we love the French people, who are very nice, but as we got here today I may change my mind."

Eurotunnel in June agreed to sell its Calais-to-Dover ferry business to Denmark's DFDS to end a lengthy battle with British competition authorities.

SCOP Sea France, the co-operative of workers that runs the ferries, asked a commercial court to extend its contract with Eurotunnel and prevent it from being dissolved after the sale.

The court on Monday rejected that request.

DFDS, which is set to take over operation of the ferries on July 2, has pledged to keep 202 out of 577 workers, a level the union sees as unacceptable.

The ferry workers had initially tried to buy the business of operating the two ferries from Eurotunnel themselves but failed.