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By Humphrey Carter

PALMA
THE Spanish road transport strike yesterday started taking its toll on Balearic transport companies, fuel supplies and some food stocks and the British Embassy in Madrid has been forced to suspend its passport courier service because of the disruption being caused.

A number of fuel stations ran out of petrol and diesel and more merchant shipping crossings between Balearic ports and the mainland were canceled as local transport companies started to feel the force of the truckers' general strike.

The owner of Webbs Removals, Bill Webb, said yesterday that he has three lorries bound for Majorca trapped just north of the French/Spanish border. “It's a double-edged sword, while I fully back the protest and wish the British truckers had more guts and would do the same, we all have businesses to run. “However, the 20 percent slump in the value in the Pound against the Euro and a near 35 percent rise in the cost of fuel over the past few months, has meant that my operating costs have risen by 55 percent this year. And we have not increased our rates. “While we're managing to keep going, others are having trouble and the “man with van” has been forced out of business. “At the start of the year, here in Spain diesel was around a euro per litre, now it's up to 1.35, in France 1.53 and 1.60, it's becoming cheaper to fill up in the UK and that's crazy.” “We've contacted all of our clients who were expecting their furniture this week to explain the situation and we've got ample storage facilities if people have to return to the UK in the meantime,” Bill Webb said.

One of his drivers, Mick Goodyear who is heading for Majorca, is stuck some 40 minutes from the Spanish border and he is not happy,” he told the Bulletin yesterday, adding that the atmosphere among the truckers backed up in a 40 kilometre tail back is “not good.” “We're all fed up with the situation. If we're not being harassed by French customs or blockaded by French trawlers, we're having to pay through the nose for fuel. I filled up this morning and diesel's reached 1'60 euro. Even the price of the baguettes at the service stations has shot up from 90 cents to 1.30 and I can't see prices coming down. The price of fuel is not going to come down. God knows what the long term future is going to bring.” “I've got enough food for a few days but, even if we started moving today, it could take up to four days to clear on the border and then we'll have to wait in the ports for the backlogs there to be cleared. I would like to get to Majorca by the weekend but it's looking unlikely at the moment,” said Mick by telephone. “It's Europe wide now and we're being under cut by the Eastern European drivers whose wages and operating costs are much lower but even they are going to get hit sooner or later by the fuel prices. “Independent truckers face a bleak future and no one up here, what ever nationality, can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he added early yesterday afternoon. “And it's not only going to be supermarket shelves in Spain going empty. I'm looking at lorries loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit bound for Britain. “If these don't get moving soon, it will all perish and Britain will start running out of fresh produce,” he said. “We're told some kind of meeting is taking place to day, but as I said, even if it breaks the deadlock, it will days to clear the ports and borders.”