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UK's Dover port declares 'critical incident' as travellers face hours-long wait

UK's Dover port declares 'critical incident' as travellers face hours-long wait

File photo of vehicles disembarking from a cross-channel ferry in the Port of Dover, following the COVID-19 outbreak in Dover, Britain, Dec 31, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)

LONDON: The Port of Dover, Britain's main gateway to Europe, on Friday (Jul 22) declared a "critical incident" over long delays, blaming a lack of French customs officials for causing a bottleneck as holidaymakers left for summer breaks.

Britain's departure from the European Union means passengers bound for France face enhanced checks by French officials.

The port had recently increased the number of customs booths to accelerate the process but it said on Friday they were understaffed, leading to delays of up to four hours at the start of what is typically one of the busiest periods of travel, when schools break up for summer.

A local French police body said delays had been caused by an "unexpected technical incident" under the Channel Tunnel, without elaborating. They said they would work closely with British counterparts to improve the traffic flows.

The major delays at the port, which led to gridlock within the town of Dover, come as some airports also struggle to recruit enough staff to manage the post-pandemic rebound in travel, leading to chaotic scenes at London airports.

A spokeswoman for the Port of Dover said CEO Doug Bannister had declared the situation a "critical incident". They did not specify what it meant in practical terms.

Apologising to the people who are stuck, Bannister told Sky News: "To be let down in the way that we have is just so frustrating."

He said traffic was now beginning to move, but the backlog would take some time to clear.

Graham Stuart, Britain's minister of state for Europe, told Sky News that the government had been working with France to clear the backlog at the port, which handles 12 million passengers each year.

"We are doing everything we can ... it is not a border force problem as such, it is the French authorities. All we can do is continue to work with them," Stuart said.

Dover and Calais have what is known as juxtaposed border controls, where French authorities check passports on British soil before departure, and vice versa in France.

"Please arrive prepared for a prolonged wait - carry snacks and additional water with you," P&O Ferries, one of the main passenger operators from Dover, said on Twitter.

The operator said its services from Calais were operating smoothly.

Danish ferry operator DFDS also said that all its vessels were in operation despite the delays.

Source: Reuters/ng

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