The company given a multi-million pound contract to run no-deal Brexit ferries despite having no ships is finally hiring staff.
Seaborne Freight is advertising for a stevedore and an operations assistant – apparently the first two vacancies to appear on the firm’s recruitment page despite Brexit being just two months away.
But MPs immediately described the moves as “facrical” and “meaningless” given the lack of time to get ferry services up and running by exit day on March 29.
Earlier this month, transport secretary Chris Grayling faced a wave of criticism for handing the firm a £13.8m contract to run ferry services between Ramsgate and Ostend in Belgium to ease pressure on the Dover-Calais route in the event of no deal.
Critics pointed out Seaborne had no ships, no staff, no contracts with either Ramsgate or Ostend authorities, and embarrassingly had appeared to copy the terms and conditions on its website from a takeaway delivery outlet.
Ostend mayor Bart Tommelein has also said it would be “impossible” for his city to be ready for a ferry service in time for Brexit day.
Commenting on the job vacancies, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “Seaborne may well be recruiting but it will be meaningless unless the company reaches an agreement with the port of Ostend to operate services by January 31 – in just six days’ time.
“Failure to reach an agreement will mean Ramsgate cannot receive ferries from March 29 and will surely mean the Department for Transport’s contract with the company will be dead in the water.”
Fellow Labour MP Ian Murray, a supporter of the Best for Britain anti-Brexit campaign, said: “Two months until the perfect storm of Brexit and only now is the recruitment process underway, let alone the key task of finding ships.
“This farcical situation proves the government is far from ship-shape.
“Rather than continue with this unedifying and costly debacle, we should put the decision over Brexit back into the hands of the public through a people’s vote.”
Seaborne is advertising online for two key Ramsgate-based roles, including a stevedore whose main duties will be mooring vessels, tugmaster driving, loading and unloading vehicles onto ferries, and traffic marshalling.
Prospective applicants will need mooring and tugmaster experience, an HGV1 licence and a forklift licence.
The operations assistant will meanwhile welcome truck drivers when they check-in, help load and unload vehicles on to ships and identify those carrying hazardous goods, among other duties.
Applicants will need to have a “reasonable level of numeracy and literacy”, be IT literate and customer focused.
Steve Coombes, chair of the Ramsgate Action Group of campaigners, said: “This looks like a very exciting opportunity for Ramsgate and I’ll sure hundreds of my members will be submitting application forms.
“But there is some worry that Chris Grayling may have dusted off his CV and beaten us all to the punch.
“In which case, why bother?”