P&O Ferries Will Not Face UK Criminal Prosecution for Firing Crews 

P&O Ferries criminal prosecution
Unions across the UK protested what they contend was illegal actions in hiring the seafarers (ITF)

Published Aug 19, 2022 5:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

P&O Ferries is not going to face criminal charges in the UK for its actions firing roughly 800 seafarers with no advance notice and replacing them with lower paid contract workers in March 2022. That was the word from the UK’s Insolvency Service late today saying the case would not stand up in court.

At issue was the contention of the unions along with members of parliament that the company under UK law was required to provide 45 days' notice before dismissing its employees and commence a consultation with its unions. Many however said because the company is in effect a foreign entity, owned by DP World, and since the ferries are all registered outside the UK, the company’s only obligation was to the flag states where the vessels are registered.

“After a full and robust criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the employees who were made redundant by P&O Ferries, we have concluded that we will not commence criminal proceedings,” the Insolvency Service said in a brief written state published on Friday afternoon.

The decision they said had been reached after conducting a criminal investigation which was further reviewed by an independent senior prosecution lawyer. The lawyer “concluded there was no realistic prospect of a conviction,” in the criminal matter but that a civil investigation is ongoing.

P&O Ferries had said in response to the strong condemnations of its actions and a widespread union boycott that the company had no choice but to take the actions it did. The company’s CEO Peter Hebblewaithe appeared to recognize the questions of the legality of its actions. He told a hearing in front of a parliament committee that the company was faced with bankruptcy when they decided to lockout the employees announcing that they had all been dismissed during a brief video that ended by telling them to leave the ships and company property immediately.

Scattered efforts to occupy some of the ferries failed but the company still faced weeks of disruption as it attempted to train the replacement contract labor. The Maritime & Coastguard Authority launched a rigorous review of each vessel before permitting them to sail while the government promised to cancel contracts and institute new employment laws that require all seafarers working on ships regularly operating from the UK to meet the country’s minimum standards.

Predictably, the unions were quick to call today’s announcement, “a deeply disappointing decision,” saying it would be met by more frustration and anger.

“The message is clear, P&O Ferries must be held properly accountable for their disgraceful actions and we will continue the campaign to ensure that the CEO and his fellow directors are held to account and to make certain this can never happen again,” said Mark Dickinson, general secretary of Nautilus.

The union continues to say that it believes that P&O Ferries had a legal obligation to provide advance notice both to the UK Secretary of State of its plans and to Bermuda, Cyprus, and the Bahamas, where the vessels are registered. The union says the company failed to provide notice to the flag states ahead of firing the crews.

While saying they felt “further let down by the system that fails to punish apparent criminal corporations,” Nautilus noted that the civil investigation has not yet been completed. 

This comes as the UK has faced a summer of labor actions from unions across the country. Trains and other services have gone on strike and starting Sunday, Unite the Union promises to bring the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, to a standstill for 8-days in its ongoing demands for wage increases that reflect the current rate of retail inflation.