Four ferry firms have signed contracts with the Department for Transport (DfT) worth a combined £77.6m to provide freight services after Brexit.
Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O and Stena Line will between them provide extra capacity for the equivalent of 3,000 heavy goods vehicles a week.
The new contracts will ensure that vital medical supplies and other critical goods continue to be delivered “smoothly”, the DfT said.
Capacity will be added on quieter routes between the UK and mainland Europe, serving ports such as Felixstowe, Harwich, Hull, Newhaven, Poole, Portsmouth, Teesport and Tilbury.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “As the transition period comes to an end, we are putting the necessary measures in place to safeguard the smooth and successful flow of freight.
“Securing these contracts ensures that irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations, lifesaving medical supplies and other critical goods can continue to enter the UK from the moment we leave the EU.”
The contracts will be in place for six months from the end of the transition period on 31 December.
With the end of the transition period looming, there are increased concerns that freight trade will suffer major delays with logjams at ports such as Dover and Folkestone.
A leaked letter from Michael Gove last month revealed that lorry drivers could face 7,000 long queues if hauliers did not prepare for customs changes.
Ferry services have proved a controversial subject for the government in the past.
Last year previous transport secretary Chris Grayling came under pressure to resign after giving a £14m contract to Seaborne Freight – which at the time had no ships.
RMT union said that the companies that had been awarded contracts today should ensure to hire UK staff.
General secretary Mick Cash said: “It is not enough that these companies actually own ships, these contracts must guarantee British seafarer employment.
“We will not stand for taxpayers’ money being used to subsidise ferry companies that recruit crew from outside the UK so they can pay them less, including rates below the National Minimum Wage.
“These international routes are critical to our economic future, yet P&O are walking away from Hull-Zeebrugge and over 1,200 UK seafarers have lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic.”