MCA Clears P&O Ferries to Resume More Service
Beleaguered U.K. ferry operator P&O Ferries is reporting that it is set to resume service on its busiest route as the company has received clearance from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and works to return to full service six weeks after firing its crews and replacing them with agency staffs. While the restoration of service is seen as a key step, the unions are continuing their protests and accusations while asking passengers and freight companies to boycott the company.
The MCA gave clearance on April 22, for the Spirit of Britain, one of the P&O’s ferries on the Dover to Calais route to resume service after the 47,592 gross ton vessel was detained on April 11. The details of the inspection were also released now that the case has been closed and it shows that a total of 23 decencies were detailed including six that were grounds for the detention. While most of the focus has been on crewing issues and training, the inspection also showed issues related to the fast rescue boats which were not properly maintained, inoperative oil filtering equipment, fire doors that were not as required, and issues with fire dampers. The vessel was reinspected and cleared last Friday.
P&O announced today that it will resume service on its busiest route between England and France on Wednesday morning for passengers and cargo. However, a second vessel that operates on the route, the Pride of Kent, remains under detention.
Other routes are also coming back into operation for the company. Over the weekend, P&O announced that both the European Causeway and the European Highlander were back in service between Northern Ireland and Scotland. That route is back to full service while the Norbay, which runs between Liverpool and Dublin, has also been cleared to sail.
The unions however are continuing to call for a boycott of all the routes reiterating their demand that the company reinstate all the fired crewmembers. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) also leveled fresh charges against the company after union inspectors were denied permission to board the vessels at the Port of Dover last week. The RMT now says it has had reports that P&O attempted to reduce the wages of the agency workers that it brought on at already reduced rates versus the fired employees.
P&O is strongly denying the latest union accusations saying it was a misunderstanding with one employee that did not understand the terms of the contract. "There are no plans to change or reduce the wages of any of our agency seafarers,” the company said in a statement. They previously confirmed that the average wage for the agency employees is £5.50 an hour (approximately $7.00 per hour) which is below the UK minimum wage and below the levels that the government has been working to enforce for crews working on all ships servicing UK ports.
There also remain four additional ferries that still require inspection by the MCA before the company will be back to full operation on all of its routes.