P&O ship deemed 'unfit to sail' and detained for 'staff training failures'

25 March 2022, 21:59 | Updated: 25 March 2022, 23:13

The European Causeway has been detained days after safety concerns were raised as a result of P&O sacking all their staff and replacing them with agency workers
The European Causeway has been detained days after safety concerns were raised as a result of P&O sacking all their staff and replacing them with agency workers. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

A P&O ship has been detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) after it was deemed "unfit to sail".

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The MCA said the ship was held due to "failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training".

It comes after P&O sacked all its seafarers with immediate effect and replaced them with agency workers, sparking concerns about the safety of the vessels.

"Following my instruction to inspect all P&O vessels prior to entering back into service, the [Maritime and Coastguard Agency] has detained a ship for being unfit to sail," said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Read more: Grant Shapps told about 'challenges' to P&O Ferries but not staff lay-offs in meeting

Read more: Explained: What has P&O done and why?

"I will not compromise the safety of these vessels and P&O will not be able to rush inexperienced crew through training."

The ship is the European Causeway, a ferry operating from Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland.

There were no passengers or freight on board the vessel when it was detained in Larne, the MCA said.

An MCA spokesperson said: "We can confirm that the European Causeway has been detained in Larne.

"It has been detained due to failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training.

"The vessel will remain under detention until all these issues are resolved by P&O Ferries.

"Only then will it be reinspected."

Detention of ships is based on concerns over their safety and to prevent them going to sea.

Watch: Shapps condemns ‘breathtaking arrogance’ of P&O boss and says he needs to resign

Read more: P&O accused of hiring workers on '£1.80 an hour' after sacking 800 people

The RMT union said it welcomed the detention of the European Causeway and it demanded the Government "seize the entire fleet" of P&O vessels.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: "The seizing of the European Causeway by the MCA tonight shows that the gangster capitalist outfit P&O are not fit and proper to run a safe service after the jobs massacre.

"This mob should be barred, their ships impounded and the sacked crews reinstated to get these crucial ferry routes back running safely."

Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson also welcomed the impounding of the ferry in the interests of safety.

"It's not like the crew of an airplane getting off one Easyjet and getting on to the next one where the controls are the exactly the same, and everything is in the same place," he said.

"No two ships are the same, and you cannot just fly a crew in and expect them to be able to sail a ship.

"Every control will be in a different place, but particularly all those health and safety drills that have to be gone through, everything from lifeboat stations to how each item of equipment operates.

"It seemed to me it was going to be very difficult for staff to be able to take on that role in such a short period of time.

"I am absolutely delighted they have (impounded the ship). This isn't vengeance against P&O, it's about passenger safety and the safety of the crew as well.

"It was reckless of the company to think they could not only act in the way in which they did about dismissing staff but they don't seem to have had a plan as to how they were going to take this forward and now it is falling apart on them."

It comes after P&O Ferries sacked 800 experienced members of staff with no notice and replaced them with workers paid less than the minimum wage.

Unions have raised concerns about the safety of the ships as a result.

Read more: P&O to pay out more than £36m in compensation to sacked staff

Read more: P&O Ferries boss admits firm 'chose' to break the law by sacking 800 workers

Mr Shapps condemned the "breathtaking arrogance" of P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite on Friday, telling LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast his actions were "unacceptable".

"We will not allow the situation to rest where it is," said the Transport Secretary.

"He deliberately sought to hide what the company was doing, break the law, by his own admission.

"And sack those workers, and pay them not to take P&O to a tribunal, and re-employ those positions on below the minimum wage, well below the minimum wage - that is unacceptable."

The P&O chief executive told MPs on Thursday that he had made a conscious decision not to consult about the sackings with trade unions.

"We assessed that given the fundamental nature of change, no union could accept it and therefore we chose not to consult because a consultation process would have been a sham," he said.

"We didn't want to put anybody through that."

Read more: Andrew Marr: What were P&O Ferries thinking sacking 800 staff like this in the modern era?

He added: "I completely throw our hands up, my hands up, that we did choose not to consult.

"We did not believe there was any other way to do this."

Asked if he would make the same decision again with the benefit of hindsight, Mr Hebblethwaite replied: "We weren't viable before, and I know that if we hadn't made radical changes the business would have closed."

He also conceded that the new crews are being paid below the UK's minimum wage apart from on domestic routes, but insisted this is allowed under international maritime rules.

Mr Shapps branded his behaviour before the panel "brazen, breathtaking" and showed "arrogance".

"He needs to consider his position," Mr Shapps told LBC.

"He needs to resign."