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P&O Ferries: Concerns crisis will hit supermarket supplies across Northern Ireland

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Sacked P&O workers are joined at Larne Port by seafarers from Stena Line, who came to show solidarity

Sacked P&O workers are joined at Larne Port by seafarers from Stena Line, who came to show solidarity

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P&O crisis sparked protests all over UK

P&O crisis sparked protests all over UK

PA

Protest at Larne harbour

Protest at Larne harbour

A lorry boards the ferry before service was halted

A lorry boards the ferry before service was halted

PA

Larne Port

Larne Port

PA

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Sacked P&O workers are joined at Larne Port by seafarers from Stena Line, who came to show solidarity

Retailers and supermarkets expect to be hit with major supply problems with the suspension of P&O’s Larne to Cairnryan ferry service.

A well-placed industry source has told Sunday Life that getting a new crew in place to re-start the service is not a straightforward process and could take anything up to a fortnight.

Stormont held emergency meetings on Friday and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has said the matter needed to be resolved “very quickly”.

The situation will be manageable for around five days because of stock in distribution centres. But anxious business owners are looking at alternative Irish Sea options such as using the ports of Belfast, Warrenpoint, and Dublin. 

Our source told us: “They are saying they are going to be suspended for a few days, but the minimum I would say you’re actually looking at is another week that they won’t be sailing and it could be a lot longer.

“You can’t simply manage something like this. It’s not like driving a car, you cannot put a wholly new crew onto a ship and expect it to sail the next day. Legally you can’t even do it either.”

Protests have already taken place at Larne Harbour and other ports after P&O Ferries sacked 800 UK staff without notice.

It is understood that the number of workers affected here are around 60, with Dover bearing the brunt of the redundancies in the region of 600 employees.

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P&O crisis sparked protests all over UK

P&O crisis sparked protests all over UK

PA

P&O crisis sparked protests all over UK

P&O said its survival was dependent on “making swift and significant changes now” and nearly a quarter of all UK staff were told via a pre-recorded video message on Thursday that it was their “final day of employment”.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has already warned that there would also be consequences for businesses here who sell products outside Northern Ireland.

He said: “There are export materials that need to get out of Northern Ireland which won’t get out,” he told BBC’s The View programme.

Our industry source said that while the sight of security staff boarding the European Causeway to escort staff from the ship on Thursday came as a shock, there had been internal rumblings this was on the cards.

They said: “For a while it’s been obvious that big changes were going to come at P&O.

“This took everybody by surprise but it was interesting because there have been really strange adverts appearing for crew in the past few weeks that nobody could get their head around.

“These job adverts appeared weeks ago and nobody could understand why.

“They were looking for staff with the right to work within the UK for a new Northern Ireland-GB service and nobody could work out what this was about.

“And they were also looking for staff for the English Channel and we all thought that actually it was P&O bringing one of their laid up ships back.’’

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Protest at Larne harbour

Protest at Larne harbour

Protest at Larne harbour

P&O Ferries tweeted on Friday evening that services between Larne and Cairnryan were suspended, and they were no longer able to arrange alternative travel.

The ferry firm said the “tough decision” was made to secure the future of the business.

P&O’s official line has been that its services will not operate for the “next few days”, with passengers told to use other companies.

“In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business,” it said.

“We have made a £100m loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World.

“This is not sustainable. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”

Tory chairman Oliver Dowden said yesterday that P&O Ferries and its parent company DP World should be “in no doubt” that the Government is considering its links with them following the mass sacking of the 800 seafarers.

The Government’s contracts with the firms are being reviewed and Mr Dowden said there was “revulsion” about the handling of the process.

“I think they should be in no doubt that the Government is considering very closely its relationship with them,” he said.

He said the Government was trying to establish whether the mass sacking was legal.

“All of us feel, frankly, a revulsion at the kind of sharp practices from P&O. There has been a complete lack of engagement, a lack of prior notice or indeed any empathy whatsoever for the workers,” he added

A maritime union has urged the Transport Secretary to revoke P&O Ferries’ licences in British waters.

Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson has written to Grant Shapps encouraging the Government to take urgent action against the ferry operator.

In a letter, published on Twitter, Mr Dickinson called for Mr Shapps to “hold P&O to account” in six ways, including revoking its licences to operate in British waters, pursuing “any legal option available” over how P&O handled the mass redundancies, and requesting the return of any taxpayer cash the ferry operator received during the pandemic. 


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