Wexford hauliers facing tense refugee crisis at French port
WEXFORD hauliers, whose drivers are becoming increasingly fearful of desperate migrants in the French port of Calais, are losing thousands of euros because of strikes and blockades in France and the growing refugee problem.
'Many (of those trying to board the lorries) are armed with knives and we have had a few incidents with drivers confronting them to stop them damaging the trailers and getting assaulted in the process,' said haulage boss Ray Moran, whose company, Ray Moran International Transport, is based at Strandfield Business Park, in Wexford.
'The situation is costing us a lot of money. There are the strikes to contend with and the migrants. These guys are coming up to trucks and threatening the drivers.
'The situation has been exacerbated by the strikes and blockades,' he said.
Mr Moran said the frequent Maritime Nord union blockade outside Calais, with blazing tyres placed across the approaches to the port, meant that lorries were either slow moving or stationary and easy targets for the migrants trying to cross the English Channel.
More than 5,000 migrants, many from trouble spots such as Sudan, Syria and Iraq, are currently camped on the outskirts of Calais, with the French authoritities - reluctant to appear heavy handed - either unwilling or unable to properly take control of the situation.
The Irish Road Haulage Association last week called for government support and intervention after yet another driver was held at knife-point by migrants in Calais.
It said the lives and livelihoods in the Irish Haulage sector, which is worth over €4 billion to the Irish exchequer and is responsible for 50,000 jobs, are in serious jeopardy as a result of the escalating migrant crisis.
Mr Moran said any driver caught with illegal migrants on board his or her vehicle in the UK faced fines of €2,000 for each one, which meant that their lorries were further delayed due to security checks by French and English police prior to embarkation.
He said that as well as the delays, some of the migrants were cutting into the roofs of the trailers during their attempts to get on board the lorries and were breaking locks.
'We are trying to avoid the problems by going to ports like Rotterdam and Cherbourg, Calais is a disaster at the moment,' he said.
However, Cherbourg proved a problem as well last week, when protesting French farmers, denouncing low milk and meat prices, blocked routes in Normandy, which meant drivers had to take a circuitous route to Italy causing more delays.
'All these delays are costing us thousands,' said Mr Moran, who was critical of the 'uncordinated' Operation Stack on the M20 in the UK which saw lorries parked nose to tail ahead of the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel when there is disruption on the French side.
'There doesn't seem to me much coordination between the ferry companies, Eurotunnel and the police, which means that lorries and trains are leaving half empty.'
'We are running 35 trucks weekly on the continent, with a mixture of our own trucks and owner drivers, and with the current situation it is increasingly more difficult to run our operations smoothly and profitably.
'There are many other transport companies in Wexford getting affected in the same way. We hope that the UK government and the EU can come to some agreement to sort out this problem in the near future,' he said.