P&O Ferries: Who owns P&O Ferries, what was P&O Ferries' news, and why have routes been cancelled?

P&O Ferries suspended all sailings on routes to and from the UK amid news of an announcement to employees – here’s what happened

Three P&O ferries, Spirit of Britain, Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent moor up in the cruise terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent as the company has suspended sailings ahead of a "major announcement" but insisted it is "not going into liquidation". Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA.
Three P&O ferries, Spirit of Britain, Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent moor up in the cruise terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent as the company has suspended sailings ahead of a "major announcement" but insisted it is "not going into liquidation". Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA.

British ferry company, P&O Ferries suspended its services sailing from Britain to France and Ireland on Thursday morning (March 17).

Passengers arriving at ferry terminals in the UK on Thursday were met with sudden cancellations to routes, with P&O Ferries informing customers of a “temporary suspension” to services.

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The move came amid reports that the ferry operator would be making its UK staff redundant from their employment with P&O Ferries with immediate effect, prompting action from unions at sites across the UK.

The company transports both passengers and freight across four routes throughout the British Isles and Europe, serving more than 10 million passengers, 1.6 million cars, and 2.2 million freight units every year.

Here’s what you need to know about P&O Ferries, who owns P&O Ferries and what P&O Ferries’ announcement was on Thursday.

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Read more: All sailings suspended ahead of 'major announcement'

Who owns P&O Ferries?

P&O Ferries is owned by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World, a Dubai Ports firm headed up by chief executive officer Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem.

The company that would become P&O was founded in 1837 after signing a government contract to transport post by boat between London and the Iberian Peninsula.

What are the P&O Ferries routes?

P&O Ferries operates four routes for passengers and freight shipments: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland to Larne, Northern Ireland.

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Sailings between Hull and Zeebrugge, Belgium, were axed in January 2021 after the impact of the coronavirus outbreak saw P&O Ferries warn in May 2020 that around 1,100 workers could lose their jobs as part of a plan to make the business “viable and sustainable”.

What was P&O Ferries’ announcement?

The ferry operator announced that it would be suspending all sailings temporarily on Thursday ahead of a “major announcement” to employees.

All ships were returned to UK ports in preparation for the announcement, which was reportedly made to employees via Zoom.

P&O Ferries’ announcement saw 800 UK employees informed that they were being made redundant with immediate effect and being replaced by crew provided by a third party company.

In footage of the announcement obtained by BBC South East, employees were told: "The company has made the decision that its vessels going forward will be primarily crewed by a third party crew provider.

“Therefore I am sorry to inform you that this means your employment is terminated with immediate effect on the grounds of redundancy.”

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In a statement, a P&O spokesperson said that the company is not currently a “viable business” and 800 seafarers had been handed immediate severance notices with compensation packages for the “lack of advance notice”.The firm said: “P&O Ferries plays a critical role in keeping trade flowing, supply chains moving, and connecting families and friends across the North and Irish seas and the English Channel. We have been at the heart of this service for years and we are committed to serving these vital routes.“However, in its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100m loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.“These circumstances have resulted in a very difficult but necessary decision, which was only taken after seriously considering all the available options.

"As part of the process we are starting today, we are providing 800 seafarers with immediate severance notices and will be compensating them for this lack of advance notice with enhanced compensation packages.“In making this tough decision, we are securing the future viability of our business which employs an additional 2,200 people and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK.”And we are ensuring that we can continue serving our customers in a way that they have demanded from us for many years.”

Since then, it’s been revealed that P&O will need to pay £36.5 million in compensation to the 800 workers they let go.

What has been said about the P&O Ferries news?

Employees, politicians and union leaders have slammed P&O Ferries’ decision to make employees redundant with immediate effect on Thursday, amid reports that a private security company had been brought in to remove employees from ships.

With a sit-in on the Pride of Hull P&O Ferries vessel in the Humber now underway, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We are receiving reports that security guards at Dover are seeking to board ships with handcuffs to remove crew so they can be replaced with cheaper labour.“We are seeking urgent legal action and are again calling for the Government to take action to stop what is fast turning into one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.“If this happens at P&O it can happen anywhere, and we are calling for mass trade union and wider public mobilisation and protest against the company.”

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First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said she was “deeply concerned” about P&O’s actions.She tweeted: “I’m deeply concerned at P&O announcement – due to the importance to Scotland of the Cairnryan/Larne route obviously, but also the impact on 100s of workers. Fire & rehire is an appalling practice & offends the basic principle of fair work. @scotgov will be seeking urgent talks.”

Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson described P&O’s actions as “shameful”.Making a point of order in the House of Commons, Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson of Kingston upon Hull North said: “I understand from the RMT union that these agency staff, mainly from overseas, are in buses on the quayside with a security firm, hired by DP World, wearing balaclavas and taking British crew off these ships. “This is shameful and it goes against all norms of fair and reasonable behaviour.”

“The UK seafarers who are being removed from ships battled through the pandemic to keep that company afloat and P&O received taxpayers’ support.“This action will also have a major economic impact on places like the Humber.”

Additional reporting by PA.