A giant ferry cut 90 minutes from the normal scheduled crossing time from the Netherlands to the UK to beat Saturday’s quarantine deadline.
But one of the passengers who benefited has questioned whether the fuel-burning sprint was necessary.
Stena Hollandica was scheduled to leave the Dutch port of Hook of Holland at 10pm on Friday with a 6.30am arrival at Harwich in Essex.
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That would have meant hundreds of passengers being obliged to self-isolate at home for two weeks.
On Thursday evening, the UK government had announced that all arrivals from the Netherlands, as well as France and Malta, must quarantine if they arrived after 4am on Saturday.
Stena Line, the operator, set about planning for an earlier arrival time in Harwich.
A spokesperson explained: “A lot of people were panicking and for many there would be financial implications from quarantine: lost work, even lost jobs, or penalties from schools from kids staying home.”
First, it had to establish with the Department for Transport (DfT) where the ferry passengers needed to be when the 4am deadline came into effect: in British territorial waters, moored in port or on UK soil (or at least Tarmac)?
On Friday afternoon, the DfT said that the test was whether the vessel was tied up in an English port.
Stena Line decided to sail half-an-hour early, which was achievable given the normal check in ends at 9.15pm.
The spokesperson said: “The port and dock teams did a sterling effort of getting the ship loaded quicker and it was away by 9:30pm a full half an hour ahead of schedule.
“Then it was pedal to metal, full steam ahead,”
The captain accelerated the normal overnight crossing by 90 minutes, covering the 127 miles in seven hours flat for a 3.30am arrival time.
“At least the passengers were able to wake up to some good news for once,” said the Stena spokesperson.
The crossing involved an average speed of 18mph, compared with the usual 15mph.
For ships, a 20 per cent increase in speed requires a much greater increase in fuel burn.
Aad Kwakkelstein, a table-tennis coach returning from the Netherlands with some competitors, was glad to avoid quarantine.
He told The Independent: “I think it was a great effort of Stena. To speed it up and dock before the 4am was a great idea.
“It makes a big difference. In my opinion it takes customer service to the next level.”
But he questioned whether the race to reach Harwich was necessary. “I can’t see how it makes a difference for stopping the spread of the virus for Stena to have to take special measures, such as speeding it up to arrive a couple of hours early in Harwich.
”This cost more fuel, was as such bad for the environment and I don’t think the virus was stopped as we still left the ship at the same time as usual.
“This seems to me as enforcing the measures according to the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.”
The Department for Health and Social Care says: “Self-isolating will reduce the chance of a second wave of coronavirus in the UK and help prevent family, friends and the community from contracting coronavirus, as well as helping to protect the NHS.”
The government has also clarified that ferry travel does not exempt motorists who drive straight through France or the Netherlands from quarantine. Only those using Eurotunnel from Calais to Folkestone may avoid self-isolation, if they follow the rules for transit travel.
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