The start of the summer holiday getaway has been plunged into chaos after a critical incident was declared at the Port of Dover.
Holidaymakers have been stuck in long queues, with officials pointing the finger at France for failing to ensure a smooth start to the summer season.
Dover port bosses have declared a critical incident due to major disruption at the border.
Drivers have been left sitting in long queues for immigration, with P&O Ferries warning of delays of up to five hours.
Officials at Dover have laid the blame for the chaos firmly at the door of the French.
Doug Bannister, the port’s chief executive, told Sky News: “The cause of it is French immigration controls.
“This is causing major disruption. French border controls are not properly staffed.”
In a statement on its website, the port said it had worked “particularly hard” over recent months to prepare for the expected jump in traffic volumes as the summer getaway began.
Despite this, staffing levels at the French border to process arrivals at the UK overnight and early this morning were “woefully inadequate”.
It’s reported that only six of the 12 passport booths run by the French authorities at Dover are currently open.
Bosses said they “deeply regret the consequences that will now be felt by so many”.
What should I do if I’m travelling?
The lengthy delays are set to cause chaos for anyone catching a ferry from Dover today.
P&O Ferries has warned that Jubilee Way, which leads up to the port, is currently “at a standstill”. It added that there are also queues on the A20 on the approach to Dover.
So far, neither the ferry operators nor the port has told passengers to avoid Dover, so holidaymakers can still attempt to travel.
However, people should expect delays of more than four hours and have been advised to “carry snacks and additional water”.
P&O said all its sailings were running on time and that anyone who misses their ferry will be able to travel on the next available one.
Passengers have been warned that there are limited toilet facilities at the port and they should stop en route.
How long will it last?
The queues are unlikely to die down before the end of the day and traffic is expected to remain heavy.
Port officials said they would continue to work with authorities in Kent to look after those caught up in the chaos and “play our part in resolving it as soon as possible”.
They added: “Working with and through the UK government, we will also liaise constructively with Police Aux Frontieres to work through the present logjam and to stress again the importance of adequate French border resource for the coming days and weeks on which we had previously been assured.”
What are my alternatives?
If you haven’t yet booked your travel to France, there are a number of alternative routes that avoid Dover.
Brittany Ferries links Portsmouth to Caen, St Malo and Cherbourg in as little as three hours, with the option of overnight sailings.
Condor Ferries runs services to St Malo, as well as to the Channel Islands. DFDS, meanwhile, links Newhaven and Dieppe.
For those willing to leave the car at home, there are plenty for flight routes connecting the UK to northern France. However, passengers could still be faced with delays and cancellations at airports.
Alternatively, Eurostar trains are still running, connecting London and Ashford International to Paris and other European destinations.
What are my rights?
If your ferry is delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation.
You’re entitled to get 25pc of the ticket price back if you’re delayed for at least:
- one hour for a journey of up to four hours
- two hours for a journey of between four and eight hours
- three hours for a journey of between eight and 24 hours
- six hours for a journey of more than 24 hours
If the delay is more than double these times, the compensation rises to 50pc.
The ferry operator must pay compensation within one month of submission of your claim, according to consumer group Which?
What’s more, if your ferry is expected to be delayed by more than 90 minutes, you should be offered free snacks, meals and refreshments.
However, operators are only required to provide these if they’re available or can reasonably be supplied.