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29 March 2019, 15:29 | Updated: 29 March 2019, 15:31
A ferry company is operating extra services due to a £47 million taxpayer-funded no-deal Brexit contract despite the boats not being required to import critical goods.
The first of 20 additional weekly cross-Channel sailings by Brittany Ferries departed Portsmouth for Le Havre on Friday morning.
Brittany Ferries, DFDS and Seaborne Freight were awarded Government contracts totalling more than £100 million in December to lay on additional crossings to carry critical products and ease the pressure on Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The delay in leaving the EU means the extra crossings are not needed to bring vital goods to the UK, but Brittany Ferries insisted it was too late to cancel them.
The Government said the freight capacity it bought up to April 12 is being offered for sale on the open market, following the EU's agreement to delay Brexit until that date.
Brittany Ferries said its ships are continuing to carry passengers and freight customers.
The controversial contracts put in place by Chris Grayling's
Department for Transport (DfT) have already seen a row over the collapse of the deal with Seaborne Freight, which had no ferries, and a £33 million out-of-court settlement with Eurotunnel.
The six-month deals were aimed at securing the supply of goods such as medicines for humans and animals, vaccines, infant milk formula, organs for transplants and chemicals for the energy industry.
Brittany Ferries is running extra crossings between Portsmouth and Le Havre; Poole and Cherbourg; and Plymouth and Roscoff.
The change in its schedules altered the travel plans of more than 20,000 passengers with existing bookings.
The company outlined some of the costs it has incurred as a result of the contract with the DfT.
It said in a statement: "As a consequence of increasing the frequency of sailings, we are committed to higher fuel costs. Our ships will sail an additional 2,000 nautical miles every week. We are also committed to higher port fees.
"Fifty additional Brittany Ferries' port staff have been hired on both sides of the Channel to deal with more frequent port calls. We have also spent the last three months training current on-board teams.
"The reality is that we were committed as soon as we signed the contract and preparations began to deliver the dedicated NHS shipment channel. There is no turning back at this late stage because all the preparatory work is now in place for March 29."
The firm added that it is using its "best endeavours" to re-sell freight capacity unused by the DfT, to reduce costs to the taxpayer.
A spokeswoman for DFDS would not confirm if it was running extra crossings, after the company was awarded a £42.5 million Brexit contract.
A Government spokeswoman said: "Leaving with a deal is still our priority, but as a responsible Government it is only right that we push on with contingency measures.
"The Government's freight capacity contracts run for six months and are a vital part of wider contingency planning. They provide capacity for critical goods, including vital medicines, to continue to enter the UK in a no-deal scenario.
"Due to the agreed extension until 12 April, tickets for the first two weeks have been released for sale on the open market, which will minimise costs for the taxpayer."