Government seeks answers on Irish routes as P&O Ferries suspends services

Company, which operates Dublin-Liverpool and Larne-Cairnryan, is making 800 UK seafarers redundant

The Government has contacted P&O Ferries seeking details of the impact on its Irish operations of the decision by the UK-based company to suddenly suspend all services and sack its 800 seafaring crew.

P&O currently operates two routes from Ireland, including a Dublin Port to Liverpool route comprising mostly freight traffic along with passengers in cars, and Larne in Antrim to Cairnryan in Scotland, which carries passengers and freight. Both services are suspended after P&O said it was ceasing operating temporarily.

It is understood that P&O accounts for close to 10 per cent of all unitised freight movements through Dublin Port. Sources at the port suggested it was unaware of what is happening.

The Department of Transport said had contacted the company but it had not yet received any details about the Irish impact. It suggested that if services on the Irish routes are affected, other shipping companies will step in to replace it.


Earlier on Thursday P&O Ferries suspended all services and ordered its ships back to port as it announced it was making 800 staff redundant. Unions said the company had sacked all its UK sailors.


In addition to its Irish routes, it also operates Dover to Calais and Hull to Rotterdam.

The ferry company was directing passengers and freight to rival services on Thursday, but said in a statement: “P&O Ferries is not going into liquidation. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”

The ferry group has almost 4,000 employees and operates more than 30,000 sailings a year . It said it was losing $100 million per year and its Dubai-based owner, DP World, could not keep funding its losses.

P&O’s Dublin-Liverpool route is serviced by two roll-on, roll-off passenger and freight ships, the Bermuda-flagged Norbay and the Dutch-flagged Norbank. Both are currently moored in Liverpool, according to maritime tracker websites. Prior to the suspension of services, P&O operated four daily crossings each way on the route.

The Larne route is serviced by the Bahamas-flagged European Causeway ferry, which is currently moored in the Northern Ireland port, and the European Highlander, which is in Cairnryan. It operated seven daily two-hour crossings each way.

Nautilus, the seafarers’ trade union, said P&O had sacked the crew across its entire UK sailing fleet late on Thursday morning, and added that there had been no consultation or notice given to staff.

The RMT union said it had instructed crew to stay on board the ferries and was concerned that British crew could be replaced by “foreign labour”.

Moira Grassick, the chief operating officer of consultancy firm Peninsula Ireland, warned that P&O should prepare for an influx of unfair dismissal claims.

Karl Turner, the Labour MP for Hull East, where there is a P&O terminal, said "foreign crew" were waiting to board P&O's Pride of Hull ferry to take over from the sacked British sailors.

“They will not be boarding her,” he said in a message posted on Twitter.

Live situation

In Britain, Downing Street said that transport officials were in urgent discussions with P&O to address the “live situation”.

P&O did not respond to a request for comment on the future of its workforce, but earlier in the day said: “We have asked all ships to come alongside, in preparation for a company announcement. Until then, services from P&O will not be running and we are advising travellers of alternative arrangements.”

In a message to staff seen by the Financial Times the ferry operator said services had been suspended ahead of an announcement from its owner, DP World, “which will secure the long-term viability of P&O Ferries”.

Passengers at Dover and Calais with bookings on Thursday morning sailings were being told to head to rival DFDS to travel.

A British government spokesman said the “Kent Resilience Forum” was also holding a meeting on Thursday amid concerns about the knock-on effect on the transport system.

Nautilus said P&O’s actions were “nothing short of scandalous” and a “betrayal to British workers”.

DP World, a Dubai-based container and logistics group, bought P&O Ferries for £322 million (€383m) in 2019, and fired 1,100 workers early in 2020 as the pandemic struck.

The company faced criticism from unions and politicians in the UK for pushing ahead with a planned $330 million (€300m) dividend payout as it laid off staff and took government funding to keep freight services running. – Additional reporting: Philip Georgiadis, Jim Pickard and Simeon Kerr - FT

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times