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Dover races to prepare for mandatory fingerprint checks

Traffic queues for ferries at the Port of Dover in Kent
Port authorities plan to complete extra checks in an area where vehicles already wait for an hour or more to board the ferry - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Millions of ferry passengers are facing higher costs at Dover as the port launches a hiring spree to cope with new mandatory fingerprint checks.

The port is racing to recruit extra staff ahead of new Brussels rules which will require most Britons to supply fingerprints and facial images in order to travel to France from October onwards.

The bulk of recruits will be deployed in a new registration zone to be set up in the area where cars wait for their sailing, according to the latest thinking, with checks expected to require more manpower than previously hoped.

It is feared that the extra cost involved will have to be imposed on ferry companies – ultimately feeding through to passengers in the form of higher fares.

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Port of Dover, which runs the terminal, initially planned for officials to hand a tablet computer to every driver, who would then pass it to anyone else in the vehicle. Each traveller would be required to set up a profile and take scans of their fingertips and faces.

But with everyone from pensioners to small children required to register, the port has now concluded that this approach is too likely to cause delays at the busiest times.

Instead, it plans to station an agent with a tablet next to every car door in order to speed up the process and deal with any inevitable glitches and questions, according to Doug Bannister, chief executive.

Port of Dover Doug Bannister
Port of Dover boss Doug Bannister says the company is likely to have to cover the cost of the additional checks - Jamie Lorriman

Each of the half dozen or so registration lanes would aim to handle 10 or more cars at a time during the peak period. With ferries sailing from Dover around the clock in the summer, the number of workers required is likely to run to significantly more than 100.

While the changes are being forced on Dover by the EU, Mr Bannister said the port will have to supply the extra agents itself and hence most likely pay their wages. That in turn could impact the roll-on, roll-off terminal’s charges to the ferry operators that use it, and hence to the travelling public.

Mr Bannister said: “This is quite a significant change in our regime. Everything is a cost and we need to be careful that we are providing the most effective service.’’

Overall spending in preparation for the change – which has been dubbed the Entry/Exit System (EES) and is due to be implemented on October 6 – is somewhere above £10m, he said.

The French government still needs to sign off on the plan and verify that stationing agents in the holding area of the terminal meets requirements for the registration process to be under the supervision of French border police, who occupy booths closer to the ferry.

By situating the EES registration zone in an area where vehicles already wait for an hour or more to board the ferry, Dover aims to avoid stretching out the embarkation process and risking the miles-long queues that can be triggered by even the slightest disruption. It has been previously reported that the changes risk causing 14-hour delays.

While the planned approach to EES registration will remove the need for people to exit their cars, addressing earlier safety concerns, it’s not clear how effective it will be in keeping vehicles moving.

The port is also taking steps to free up space for cars by shifting the processing of coaches to the western docks area.

Passengers will leave the bus and set up their EES profiles, complete with fingerprints and photos, in dedicated facilities, after which they will clear French border checks. The doors of the vehicle will then be sealed.

Provided these seals remain intact, it will then be waved through at the main ferry terminal without any further French checks.

The EU has been working on a phone-based app that would allow people to complete part of the registration process themselves, with biometric data to be added at the port, but that is thought unlikely to be ready until next year.

Travel should also become easier for Britons making repeat journeys as the deluge of first-time registrations eases.