Government urged to support Hull to Zeebrugge freight route to ensure Covid vaccine gets here fast

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is being urged to support the Hull to Zeebrugge freight route as a critical element of the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain. Describing Pfizer-BioNtech’s vaccine announcement last week as a “light at the end of the tunnel”, Mr Turner has highlighted how the Belgian-manufactured vaccine could be imported directly to the UK’s worst-hit areas, including Hull, via the Humber sailings. He said P&O’s decision last month to end passenger services and take The Pride of York out of service has significantly reduced freight capacity at a critical moment, just when the Prime Minister has promised 10 million vaccinations by the end of the year.

Mr Turner, who represents a constituency with the highest infection rates in the UK, said: “Any delay to the distribution of a vaccine against Covid-19 would be unacceptable, but with the dual threat of congestion at the Channel Ports and reduced capacity on the Zeebrugge-Hull line, that is a very real prospect. P&O has received government support during this crisis to maintain the crucial route, but there is a danger they will walk away from their obligations. “The Government must step in to ensure we have the capacity and infrastructure needed to distribute this vital vaccine to the UK’s worst-affected areas in the North of England.”

His letter to Mr Shapps comes just days after it was revealed East Yorkshire firm Croda is manufacturing part of the Pfizer vaccine – producing the ingredient that carries the active element into the body – creating a North Sea supply chain on top of the distribution requirement.

The Snaith-headquartered FTSE-listed giant is producing in the UK and the US, with nearby Rawcliffe Bridge and Hull two of the four sites it operates, alongside Widnes and Staffordshire operations. Last month P&O chief executive David Stretch pledged freight services wouldn’t suffer as a result of the review. He said: “We will continue to operate freight services on the route as part of a comprehensive range of services going into Hull and around the UK.

“As such, the supply of food, medical supplies and goods will not be slowed nor damaged should passenger services cease to operate.

Read More
Related Articles
Read More
Related Articles

“Due to the extended impact of Covid19, P&O Ferries is having to consult on further difficult action in which some jobs could be made redundant – but as a result, thousands more jobs can be saved. “These necessary steps will ensure we are a more agile business that is better able to give customers the service they want and the value they demand.”

Mr Turner’s letter:

Dear Secretary of State, I have written to you on numerous occasions to emphasise the importance of the Hull-Zeebrugge shipping route, the short-sighted nature of P&O’s decision to scrap jobs and passenger services on this route whilst transferring freight capacity to Rotterdam, and the impact this will have on Hull and the wider regional economy and its supply chains.

However, no impact could be greater than the potential disruption or delay to the distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine. Pfizer-BioNtech’s announcement this week of the progress in the development of such a Covid-19 vaccine has brought much-needed hope to the country, providing a light at the end of the tunnel, as has the Prime Minister’s promise of 10m doses by the end of the year. One of Pfizer’s two sites designated for vaccine manufacture is in Belgium, near Antwerp.

Whilst Antwerp Port is Europe’s second busiest container terminal there are no roll-on roll-off freight routes to UK ports. The Channel ferry routes between Dunkerque and Calais to Dover have the disadvantage of excessive road journey’s at either end, with the serious road congestion anticipated in Kent at the end of the Brexit Transition Period likely to further complicate and delay delivery of an extremely temperature sensitive vaccine. Should the AstraZeneca vaccine, when approved, be developed at their facility in Dunkerque, this will add further pressure to limited spare capacity.

Given the extremely delicate deep-freeze conditions under which the vaccine must be stored and transported, the facilitation of direct and friction-free transit could not be more vital. The South of England benefits from roll-on roll-off ferry links, including P&O’s Tilbury-Zeebrugge route. Similarly, Scotland which has no ro-ro freight links to the continent will be heavily reliant on P&O’s Zeebrugge-Teesport for fast delivery and distribution of the Coronavirus vaccine.

Read More
Related Articles
Read More
Related Articles

As you know, P&O announced last month an end to passenger services between Hull-Zeebrugge, with further jobs lost in my constituency.

Whilst the company have pledged a continuation of freight services, the loss of the vessel The Pride of York represents a significant reduction in freight capacity. Previous pledges of service continuation have also been overturned. Unfortunately, without the preservation and restoration of ro-ro freight links between Zeebrugge and Hull, people in areas in the North of England affected by some of the highest Coronavirus infection rates, including my constituents in Hull will be among those facing the longest wait for a vaccine.

As you know, P&O have received at least GBP15m in financial support from this government, including a GBP1.2m Critical Freight Grant payment for the Hull-Zeebrugge route on which they are the sole operator. There is no freight more critical than Covid-19 vaccines, and the company should be required, under Public Service Obligation or another form of compulsion to restore ro-ro ferry services to the route in order to maximise ro-ro freight capacity and deliver the vaccine so we can overcome the pandemic speedily and efficiently in all parts of the country, including the North of England. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has, rightly, described the distribution of the vaccine as requiring a “mammoth logistical operation”.

The Port of Hull and its freight link to Zeebrugge has a vital role to play in that operation. I look forward to your reply and know that I will be of any assistance I can. Yours sincerely,

Karl Turner MP

You may also like...