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P&O Ferries debacle goes from bad to worse

Photo: ITF P&O-ITF.jpg
P&O Ferries sacking of 800 long-time seafaring employees by email without notice or consultation, has plunged the DP World subsidiary into an operational crisis. It could get worse, as maritime union leaders head for DP World’s UK headquarters in London later today.

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) inspectors were refused access to the Port of Dover on April 19, according to an ITF statement yesterday. Following the arrival of the inspectors, port officials apparently contacted P&O Ferries in the presence of the inspectors, seeking a decision on whether or not to allow them access.

However, ITF inspectors have International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code clearance, allowing them entry to all UK ports and round-the-clock access to vessels in UK waters if seafarers request assistance. The ITF said that the inspectors were present to investigate welfare issues raised by replacement crews on board some of the seven Dover-Calais ferries, currently lying idle in Dover, the UK’s closest port to continental Europe. An eighth vessel, the Pride of Burgundy, is laid up.

Tommy Molloy, one of the ITF inspectors, said: “Our inspections are random by nature and by necessity.” In the union’s experience, he explained, if non-compliant employers are tipped off about a union inspection, crew members can be threatened and incriminating documentation can go missing.

Molloy revealed that this was the first time in 17 years as an ITF inspector in the UK that he had been refused access to investigate crew welfare issues in a UK port.

The latest incident follows an announcement by the ferry company that seven agency staff were sacked after returning from shore in breach of alcohol guidelines. “The safety of our passengers and crew is our foremost priority,” P&O Ferries declared, “and we continue to operate a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking whilst on duty.”

The latest incident highlights as was discussed by Seatrade Maritime News columnist Michael Grey earlier this week the extent to which P&O Ferries miscalculated the difficulties that it would face in replacing experience crew en masse.

Read Michael Grey's column here - Not the smoothest of transfers

Meanwhile, DP World’s “global governance failures”, as the ITF labelled them in a Note to Editors, are likely to hit the headlines again. Union leaders from across the globe will descend on DP World’s London headquarters this afternoon “to express global condemnation at the company’s treatment of the P&O Ferries seafarers and failure to live up to its own values”. 

P&O Ferries’ seven in-service ferries, currently in the Kent port, are still awaiting clearance to resume trading from the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The Port of Dover is owner by the Dover Harbour Board, a statutory corporation established by Royal Charter in 1606 by King James 1.