First, it emerged that the "startup" company hired to operate extra ferries as part of no-deal Brexit planning had no ships.
Now, questions are being asked about the readiness of Seaborne Freight to handle the £13.8m (€15.3m) contract after it turned out that terms and conditions on its website appeared to be intended for a food delivery firm.
“It is the responsibility of the customer to thoroughly check the supplied goods before agreeing to pay for any meal/order,” read part of the text on the company’s website.
Questions were also being raised about other parts of the terms and conditions, including a passage which stated: “Delivery charges are calculated per order and based on [delivery details here].”
Another section, which appeared to be constructed with a view more to mitigating against the impact of prank pizza orders than transporting goods across some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, warned: “Users are prohibited from making false orders through our website.”
It added: “Seaborne Freight (UK) Limited reserves the right to seek compensation through legal action for any losses incurred as the result of hoax delivery requests and will prosecute to the full extent of the law.”
The Department for Transport said a section of the terms and conditions on the company’s website had been put up in error and was being immediately rectified.
Ridicule was also heaped on Seaborne’s “privacy terms”, which stated: “Members hold freedom to express themselves in their feedback. Although your intellectual freedom is respected, [BUSINESS NAME] reserves the right to remove from our website any material deemed threatening, immoral, racist, inaccurate, malicious, defamatory, in bad taste or illegal.”
Among those criticising the company after the curious language on the terms and conditions was first pointed out by Twitter users was Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, who said: "Seaborne Freight. No ships, no trading history and website T&Cs copied and pasted from a takeaway delivery site."
Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “Awarding a contract to a ferry company with no ships is yet another disgraceful misuse of public money by the transport secretary.
"The idea that [the transport secretary] Chris Grayling is backing a new business and has looked at this 'very carefully' is utterly risible. It's yet another example of his incompetence and mismanagement of the UK's transport system."
Another Labour MP, Tonia Antoniazzi, said: "This is beyond a joke. It's not just that the government have panic-hired a firm with no ships to conduct ferry services. That firm has literally nothing prepared to suggest the £13.8m handed over to them is a sound investment. They've seemingly copied and pasted their terms off a takeaway fast food website, and their login portal sends you back to Google."
Other signs that the website may have been cobbled together included a “portal login” section that was an image of username and password boxes rather than an actual means of logging in. A language settings option also appeared to be an image of a union flag rather than an interactive option.
Mr Grayling was forced to defend the contract on Wednesday when he said he would “make no apologies for supporting a new British business” after widespread criticism.
The contract is one of three agreements worth a total of £107.7m signed by the government to help ease congestion at Dover by securing extra lorry capacity in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Seaborne hopes to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate from late March, beginning with two ships and increasing to four by the end of the summer.
The Seaborne chief executive, Ben Sharp, told the BBC he planned to start operations with two ships before “very quickly” expanding that number to four.
A spokesperson at Mr Grayling’s department said on Thursday: “Before any contract was signed, due diligence on Seaborne Freight was carried out both by senior officials at the Department for Transport, and highly reputable independent third-party organisations with significant experience and expertise into Seaborne’s financial, technical and legal underpinning.” - Guardian