UK MCA Detains Third P&O Ferry as Line Struggles to Restart Sailing
UK regulators today detained yet another ferry from the beleaguered P&O Ferries a month after the company fired its union crews seeking to replace them with contracts with crewing agencies. The line has faced several detentions by the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency, although the latest seems to jeopardize hopes to restart operations on the busy Dover to Calais route for the Easter Holiday.
Britain’s ITV News is quoting a spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as saying, “The Spirit of Britain has been detained due to surveyors identifying a number of deficiencies which were grounds for detention. We have advised P&O to invite us back once they have addressed the issues. We do not know yet when this will be."
Spirit of Britain, built in 2010, along with her sister ship Spirit of France, were two of the largest ships operating in Europe after their launch and remain a key part of the company’s busiest route between England and France. P&O Ferries had advised customers that it expected to resume service on the route this week for the first time since it fired its crew on March 17 with a pre-recorded video and telling them to immediately depart the ships.
The ferry company has been working with the MCA trying to obtain recertification for eight of its ferries to resume services between the UK, Ireland, Northern Ireland, France, and the Netherlands. They were able to resume service on several of the routes but the busy ro-ro service out of Dover continues to be suspended with the company advising customers to seek transportation with its competitor DFDS. Trucks seeking to cross the English Channel have reported frequent long backups at Dover further exasperated by demonstrations by union members as part of an ongoing boycott organized by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).
Earlier this week, the RMT renewed its pledge to block UK ports if P&O was permitted to proceed with its plans to restart service. Earlier today, April 12, the union also released a new letter to the UK’s Transport Secretary calling for the government to detain more of the ferries due to continued safety violations. In its letter, the union said that “Port authorities in the Netherlands listed failures around fire safety, deficient training for crew and below standard ship structural integrity, during an inspection between April 7 and 8,” on P&O Ferries’ Pride of Hull. The vessel however was permitted by the MCA to resume service on April 11, after the MCA said it “passed two days of inspections and met the requirements of the Port State Control regime,” and that they were satisfied that it was safe to put to sea.
P&O’s European Causeway ferry was also permitted to resume service over the weekend sailing between Northern Ireland and Scotland. The vessel was detained on March 25 after the MCA reported numerous deficiencies during an inspection. The media outlet The Newsletter reports that the Paris MOU which tracks detentions listed 31 issues identified by the MCA, giving the vessel the worst inspection of the more than 1,200 vessels recorded in the database over the past three years. The detention was cleared on April 8 after the MCA completed a new inspection.
Pride of Kent, another ferry operated by the company out of Dover remains under detention since March 29 after the MCA’s inspectors also identified numerous issues aboard the ship. P&O Ferries had applied for permission to run the vessel on a sea trial without passengers or cargo with the hope to resume service by the end of March.
Separately, investigations are ongoing looking at the possibility that the company violated employment law with the mass firing. The UK government has moved to institute new rules that require all ferries operating from its ports to pay seafarers minimum wages while the government was also reviewing all of its contracts with P&O Ferries. The company continues to say the actions were required to save the operations from insolvency.