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Dover Port Declares ‘Critical Incident’ As Travellers Face Six-hour Queues


The Port of Dover has declared a “critical incident”, blaming “woefully inadequate” French border control staffing for queues of up to six hours as the busiest summer getaway in years kicks off.

The Kent port apologised to travellers facing long waits to cross the Channel on what was also expected to be an extremely busy day for air, road and rail travel as most schools across England and Wales break up for the holidays.

Its chief executive, Doug Bannister, declared a critical incident, telling the BBC the port had been “badly let down” by French border controls that were “insufficiently resourced” and working slower than normal, causing traffic to queue for miles.

Dover is directly affected by any French staffing shortages because of “juxtaposed controls”, where travellers clear French entry requirements at the port before crossing the Channel.

P&O Ferries, one of the main passenger operators from Dover, told customers: “There is heavy traffic at border control in the port of Dover. If you are booked to travel today please allow at least six hours to clear all security checks.”

The ferry operator DFDS, which runs up to 30 sailings each day on the Dover-Calais route, tweeted a warning to passengers to allow four hours to complete the check-in process and border controls. The company said it would work to get checked-in travellers on to the next available sailing.

The Port of Dover said: “We are deeply frustrated that the resource at the French border overnight and early this morning has been woefully inadequate to meet our predicted demand and even more deeply regret the consequences that will now be felt by so many.

“We know that resource is finite, but the popularity of Dover is not a surprise. Regrettably, the Police Aux Frontières (PAF) resource has been insufficient and has fallen far short of what is required to ensure a smooth first weekend of the peak summer getaway period.”
 
One passenger, who had been due to sail from Dover on Friday, decided at the last minute to spend £400 on alternative travel arrangements to dodge the port queues. John Till, a railway manager from west Dorset, was worried about being stuck in a tailback for hours with his 87-year-old mother, Edna Johnson, on the way to visit friends in Germany.

“At half four this morning I made the snap decision to rebook travel with Brittany Ferries and travel from the Port of Poole, which is a lot more expensive,” Till said. There was “no way I was going to let my mum down”, he added.

Kent residents were warned earlier in the week that the county’s roads were getting busier amid the start of the summer getaway. The Kent Resilience Forum, a partnership of agencies and organisations, told locals they needed to be prepared for journeys to take longer than normal.

Residents and businesses have already been snarled up in traffic chaos on several occasions this year, as tourist travel has rebounded after the pandemic, while cross-Channel freight volumes have increased.

Dover was hit by particularly long queues ahead of the Easter school holidays, when parts of the coastbound M20 motorway were turned into a lorry park for HGVs waiting to reach France.

The disruption was caused by a shortage of ferries, following P&O Ferries’ mass sacking of crew members, and poor weather conditions, combined with the temporary outage of a key post-Brexit customs IT system.

The port has previously said the post-Brexit trading regime has prompted longer processing times at the border, including time-consuming passport and paperwork checks.

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The Port of Dover said it would continue to work with its partners in Kent, as well as the UK government and French border police, to look after anyone caught up in the queues, adding that the situation “could and should have been avoided”.

Travellers are also facing long queues in parts of London, Heathrow, Manchester and Bristol airports this morning on what is expected to be an extremely busy day for air and road travel.

The RAC said an estimated 18.8m leisure trips were planned in the UK between Friday and Monday, the most since it began tracking summer getaway numbers in 2014.

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