SeaFrance will go under at the end of January if a buyout of the bankrupt ferry firm is not successful.

The Dover to Calais operator was aiming to resume services following a 48-hour stoppage after a French court rejected a £5 million joint takeover bid by DFDS and the parent of LD Lines and a rival offer organised by the French CFDT union.

But the Tribunal de Commerce in Paris declared the French ferry firm bankrupt but said it could continue to operate services under administration until January 28.

The union is planning to re-bid while DFDS and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs are to consider “potential next steps”. P&O Ferries has ruled itself out of the process.

Revised bids have been allowed to be submitted before December 12.

The Tribunal de Commerce was tasked with making a decision on the future of SeaFrance after the European Commission ruled that a £176 million bailout by the French government was illegal.

A SeaFrance spokeswoman said yesterday: “SeaFrance welcomes today’s decision of the Tribunal de Commerce to extend the period of full administration in order to find a solution for the company’s future.

“This will enable the alternatives to be fully explored and any new offers received.”

A statement on the SeaFrance website said commercial activities would resume “as soon as all the issues concerning safety and security are resolved.”

It added:  “We are conscious of the inconvenience this situation is causing and we apologise for this. We will keep you informed of any changes in the present situation.”

SeaFrance, which employs 1,650 staff on both sides of the Channel, went into receivership last year. It has four ferries sailing on the short sea channel crossing route, carrying more than 3.5 million passengers a year.