DFDS Announces New Route to France, Bypassing Dover

By: Steven Tarbox
Last updated:

Ferry and logistics company DFDS has announced a brand-new route from Sheerness today.  Starting June 1, the company will offer one daily sailing in each direction between the port and Calais.

The new route is being introduced in response to an increased demand for unaccompanied freight services.  Up to 165 unaccompanied trailers per sailing will be carried on the company’s Ro-Ro vessel GOTHIA SEAWAYS.

DFDS’ service will be the first regular ferry service to use the Kent port since Ferrylink/Eurolink closed down in 1996.  The company survived less than two years on the Sheerness – Vlissingen route which had previously been offered by Olau Line.  Unlike DFDS’ new service, both Eurolink and Olau Line carried passengers

Closer to London

Sheerness is located much closer to London and the M25 than Dover.  DFDS hopes that this will prove attractive to customers who are reassessing their transportation plans as a result of the challenges brought by Brexit and Covid-19. According to Sheerness port owner Peel Ports London Medway, the service will exploit capacity partly enabled by resilience funding granted during 2019 by the Department of Transport (DfT)

DFDS is reported to have carried over 4,100 unaccompanied units between Dover and France during February 2021, and around 7,650 since the start of the year.  February’s figures represent an 18% increase for Dover overall and a more than trebling for DFDS on Dover – Calais versus 2020.  It is understood that much of this traffic is expected to transfer to the new Sheerness route. Competitor P&O Ferries stopped carrying unaccompanied traffic late last year. Overall accompanied freight traffic through Dover has declined versus last year, however. This suggests there has been at least a partial shift to unaccompanied freight on the channel.

The new freight-only service follows a similar short-lived service offered by P&O Ferries between Tilbury and Calais.  That route closed in January 2020 following what was understood to be very poor levels of traffic and industrial action.

Wayne Bullen, DFDS’ Freight Sales Director, said: 

“We’re really pleased to be adding a new unaccompanied freight service to the extensive route network that DFDS already offers. Sheerness benefits from excellent road links with a close proximity to the M25 orbital ring, which is ideal for goods heading to the London area and the Midlands”. 

“Sheerness promises to be a superb ‘partner port’, with an ambitious plan to grow its services over the next decade. We also continue to cement our partnership with the port of Calais and are excited to be expanding our services to the port as it marks the fulfilment of its multi-million-pound expansion project”. 

“Launching a new route at this time is a strong indication of our commitment to our customers, our confidence in the popularity of DFDS services and an investment that will help to boost both the UK and French economies. It aligns with our business strategy, helping us to expand our freight network and offer solutions that help our customers, communities and our own business to grow.” 


Jean-Marc Puissesseau, Chairman, Port of Calais, said: 

“We are very proud that DFDS, first RoRo operator in Europe, chose the port of Calais to propose its new unaccompanied route to the UK. It is a clear sign of confidence in the ability of the port to create value for our clients. This new service will perfectly fit with the rail motorways in operation in Calais coming from Italy, Spain and southern France”. 


Richard Goffin, Port Director, London Medway said: 

“We’re delighted to welcome a new unaccompanied freight service from DFDS. This is the first ferry service since Olau Line ceased operating in 1994. Over the past year, we have Brexit-proofed a number of our ports, including London Medway, increasing resiliency to handle additional cargo to help reduce delays and maximise efficiencies for customers to provide a more attractive proposition and UK entry point over other southern ports. Our strategic location provides proximity to market benefits, and we are continuing to drive forward with planned investment in our people, processes and technology, creating further opportunities for our customers through diversification, as well as the creation of up to 100 direct and indirect local jobs.”


Cross-channel capacity grows

The new route will commence just weeks ahead of the introduction of DFDS’ new passenger and freight ferry CÔTE D’OPALE on the Dover – Calais route during July.  This will further increase passenger and freight capacity on the Dover Strait.  Presently DFDS has a total of six ships sailing from Dover.  The smallest of these, CALAIS SEAWAYS, is currently expected to be replaced by the new vessel. CÔTE D’OPALE is expected to begin sea trials next week.

SALAMANCA seen with CÔTE D’ OPALE on 2 March 2021 at China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai). Image: DFDS
Brittany Ferries’ SALAMANCA seen with DFDS’ CÔTE D’ OPALE on 2 March 2021 at China Merchants Jinling Shipyard (Weihai). Image: DFDS

DFDS’ announcement follows confirmation from Irish Ferries that they intend to start their own Dover – Calais route during June.  While to-date only ISLE OF INISHMORE has been named as allocated the service, it is understood that the company is seeking to have up to three vessels serving the route.   ISLE OF INISHMORE is currently in dry dock at Brest having been released from the Roslare – Pembroke route by BLUE STAR 1 yesterday.

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