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Seaborne Freight

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 1:41 pm, 8th January 2019

The Transport Secretary has awarded a £14 million contract to a company with no money, no ships, no track record, no employees, no ports, one telephone line, and no working website or sailing schedule. Two of Seaborne Freight’s directors would not pass normal due diligence requirements. One of them, Ben Sharp, is already under investigation by a Government Department. Did the Department for Transport consult other Departments about Mr Sharp’s fitness as a company director? Ben Sharp quit his business activities in the Gulf leaving a trail of debt behind him. His company, Mercator, was merely a shell finding vessels for security companies. Is it correct that he operated without the licence he needed pursuant to the Export Control Order 2008? Did he operate without that licence? Yes or no?

It is abundantly clear from the promissory note published by “Channel 4 News” that Sharp owed and still owes Mid-Gulf Offshore more than $l million, and many more companies besides. How is that Slaughter and May, Deloitte and Mott MacDonald were instructed to restrict their due diligence examination to the face value of the presentation put to them by Seaborne? Why on earth have they been allowed to restrict their investigation to the present company and not to consider the trading history of the individuals concerned, particularly Ben Sharp? The mayor of Ostend has made it clear that Seaborne cannot berth at his port as it has no bank guarantees and no contract with Ostend. It is without capital. Who is investing in Seaborne? Who is paying for the dredging of Ramsgate?

This is a shoddy and tawdry affair, and the Secretary of State is making a complete mess of it. This contract is likely to be unlawful and it violates every current best practice guidance issued by Whitehall. When will he realise that this country cannot continue to suffer the consequences of his gross incompetence? Why is this calamitous Secretary of State still in post?