The power of speaking with one voice

Following acquisition and rebranding, DFDS runs the largest fleet on the Dover Strait. Justin Merrigan talks to senior vice president Carsten Jensen

The power of speaking with one voice
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

The recent introduction of two new vessels to its schedule of crossings between Dover and Calais has enabled Danish ferry shipping group DFDS to offer up to 30 sailings a day on the key short-sea route. When combined with its three ferries on the Dover-Dunkirk route, DFDS now operates the largest fleet on the Dover Strait, with up to 54 daily sailings to the two French ports.

The transfer of both ships, the Rodin and Berlioz, to DFDS from former owner Eurotunnel was delayed last summer, when striking French MyFerryLink workers occupied both ships to protest the planned redundancy of 600 staff following Eurotunnel’s enforced decision to close its MyFerryLink business. The occupation was called off after DFDS struck a deal with French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies and protesters in September last year, pledging to employ 202 former MyFerryLink workers.

The Côte des Dunes and Côte des Flandres have undergone a complete transformation since DFDS took delivery at the end of last year. Externally, the ships are painted in the new DFDS livery, which includes the company’s updated logo and darker blue colour palette. Internally, each ship has been extensively renovated with numerous cafes and bars, a self-service restaurant named 7 Seas and a large shop with a variety of offers on holiday essentials and luxuries.

Carsten Jensen explains that DFDS is one of Europe’s largest integrated shipping and logistics companies, with a network of around 30 routes and 50 freight and passenger ships.

“We pride ourselves on offering world-class facilities and services and the widest choice of ferry routes in the Baltic Sea, in the North Sea and in the English Channel. In addition to this, we have a logistics network, including road and rail transport throughout Europe and warehousing,” he says.

In addition to the 54 daily sailings on the Calais route, DFDS also offers two daily sailings between Newcastle and Amsterdam. There are also ro-ro freight services on routes from Immingham, Felixstowe, Newcastle and Edinburgh to Scandinavia and the Benelux countries. Plus the DFDS network includes a passenger and freight service between Newhaven and Dieppe, which has four daily sailings and is operated by Transmanche Ferries.

Carsten says, “For the last five years (2011-2015), we are proud to say that we have been named the ‘World’s Leading Ferry Operator’ as well as ‘Europe’s Leading Ferry Operator’ at the prestigious 2014 and 2015 World Travel Awards.”

DFDS has rolled out new branding across all areas of the business so that, ultimately, DFDS will be the only name used on the ships, trailers, containers, signs, websites and communications channels. Speaking of the new-look DFDS image, Carsten explains that the company is a customer-centric business.

“We have merged the DFDS Seaways and DFDS Logistics brands into a single, more powerful brand. This is designed to give us stronger visibility in the marketplace and enable us to reach our customers more efficiently by simplifying the communications channels through a unified website and brand proposition. There is a strong digital drive behind this brand evolution as we continue to adapt to the way our customers want to communicate with us.

“As part of our rebrand, we have renewed the logo and refreshed our corporate colour palette. We have remained true to the Maltese Cross, which has been a strong trademark for DFDS for nearly 150 years, but have updated it using the DFDS typeface and a darker blue colour, and by removing the circle around the cross,” he says.

The fleet on the eastern Channel comprises three British-flagged ships on the Dover-Dunkirk service and three French-flagged ships on the Dover-Calais service. This combination means that DFDS has the largest fleet of ships in operation between Dover and France and reflects the importance the company places on this route as a business. Released by the new Calais ships, the chartered Malo Seaways will be redeployed elsewhere in the DFDS network.

“This blend of UK- and French-flagged ships also reflects the importance of our French and UK-based businesses and our commitment to each country in terms of both economic investment and employment opportunities for French and UK-based workforces,” says Jensen.

“Although we are ostensibly a Danish business, we are in fact multicultural in essence and strongly believe in the benefits a diverse workforce can engender.”

With the MyFerryLink strikes and the Calais migrant crisis, the 2015 summer season was a difficult one for everyone.

“We are sorry that many of our customers were caught up in the horrendous delays that we encountered,” Jensen says.

“Although the delays were beyond our control, we were fortunate enough to be able to divert an extra ship from our Calais service on to our Dunkirk service and operate with additional capacity on that route.

“We welcome the government focus on the migrant situation as this is a complicated and difficult situation for everyone. For our part, we are continuing to work closely with the port authorities on both sides of the Channel to ensure that the security in the ports remains intact,” he says. “But the two new ships are a key milestone for us which underlines our commitment to providing a sustainable, reliable and frequent ferry service on the Channel.”

Speaking of the impact of the sulphur emission regulations one year on, Jensen explains that while this presented a huge challenge to the shipping industry as a whole in terms of the timeframe imposed on meeting the new requirements, DFDS worked hard to be as prepared as possible to meet them.

“For example, we were a pioneer of scrubber technology, investing around €100m in helping to develop, test and implement it on many of our ships.

“DFDS was also taking the necessary steps to adapt the route network to the sulphur rules and did wind up a few routes that were already weak and would have no chance of surviving anyway.

“Another benefit of the new sulphur regulations has been the greater transparency that this has brought with it in terms of disclosing fuel costs and surcharges to customers. We welcome any move to improve and protect the marine environment in which we operate and are fully supportive of this legislation from that perspective.”

And what of the challenges facing Jensen on the busiest of ferry services? “One of the key challenges I face in my role as head of the Channel business at DFDS is ensuring that we are able to provide our customers with a reliable, high-quality service that is underpinned with the right level of frequency for both freight and tourist customers,” he replies. “I believe that our two latest ships on the Calais service form an important platform for delivering on that commitment.

“Another challenge for our Calais service is helping to rebuild the reputation of Calais as a safe and convenient port for cross-Channel freight and tourist traffic. As a major service provider and employer in the region, we need to work with the local authorities to reassure ferry users that the port is open and safe for business.”

And on the UK side, what can be done there? “I am also keen to ensure that we avoid the need for Operation Stack,” says Jensen. “Whilst I am confident that the chaos from last summer will not be repeated again, it is imperative that we have a viable solution for effectively managing traffic flow on the approach to Dover and Folkestone during peak periods, should delays occur.”

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Justin Merrigan
By Justin Merrigan
Friday, June 3, 2016