Second P&O Ferry Detained as Government Sets Deadline to Rehire Crew

P&O Ferry detained as government sets deadline for action
Pride of Kent is the second P&O Ferry being detained by the MCA (Paul Hermans CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

Published Mar 28, 2022 6:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK Coastguard is in the process of detaining a second P&O Ferries vessel this evening while the UK Government gave the company a “last chance to do the right thing” and reverse its decision to fire the 800 crewmembers from the company’s ships. The company however remains largely intransigent saying that it would welcome the government’s efforts to level the playing field among the ferry operations, while service on the company’s busiest routes crossing the English Channel to France and the Netherlands nonetheless remains suspended.

Surveyors from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency were aboard the Pride of Kent, a 30-year-old Ro/Ro run by P&O Ferries earlier today. It is one of the vessels P&O had transferred to the Cyprus registry a few years ago in a previous attempt to reduce operating costs. The 30,600 gross ton ferry is part of the fleet operating from Dover on the route to Calais, France, the company’s busiest route. 

The ferry was being prepared to undergo sea trials with its replacement crew with the goal of restarting service on the route by the end of this week. The MCA reports that it was asked to permit the vessel to go to sea without passengers or freight but that its surveyors had determined to detain the vessel due to unspecified violations. A spokesperson told the British media that they were waiting for the full list of detention items from the surveyors and would provide more specifics later on the causes for the action.

"It's rare enough for the MCA to impound a ferry but P&O have now had two in a week after the jobs carve up which speaks volumes about the dire state of their operation,” said Mick Lynch General Secretary of National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). "It's now high time for these important vessels to be taken over under public control with the sacked crews reinstated as the only way to get these crucial ferry routes back running safely. "

Earlier in the day, Grant Shapps, the UK Secretary of State for Transport, released a letter that he had sent to the CEO of P&O Ferries, giving the company “one further opportunity to reverse this decision.” He said that the company could still take back its fired crewmembers offering them their jobs at the same terms as before. Shapps reminded Peter Hebblethwaite that he had already placed the company’s government contracts under review and asked the Insolvency Service to investigate the company’s actions.

“The past week has left the reputation of P&O Ferries and, I’m afraid, you personally in tatters,” wrote Shapps. He pointed out the “wholly unsatisfactory” response by the company and “brazenly admitted to breaking employment law.” Saying the company’s lack of response left them no choice, Shapps said he will now introduce measures in Parliament to protect seafarers against these types of actions. Shapps said they would require all ferry companies to pay crew minimum wage of approximately $11.65 per hour versus P&O’s reported wage of $7.20 per hour for the contract labor being brought in from the agency to replace the fired crew.

“This government will not stand by while the requirement to treat seafarers with due respect and fairness is brazenly ignored,” wrote Shapps.

P&O responded saying it would welcome a level playing field with all ferry companies required to meet the minimum wage. They said their actions were not just about wages but also to reduce job duplication and create greater flexibility in operating the ships.

The efforts in Parliament are expected to start as early as Wednesday or Thursday this week with Shapps and the government promising to move as quickly as possible. At the same time, the government has asked competitors if it would be possible to increase service in advance of the upcoming spring holidays.

Top photo: Paul Hermans Pride of Kent ferry (CC BY-SA 3.0 license)