A second P&O ferry, the Pride of Kent, is being detained after it failed safety checks by authorities amid the backlash over the company’s decision to replace 800 seafarers with lower-paid crew.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) made the revelation as a new crewmember aboard a P&O vessel told Sky News there was an atmosphere of “panic” on his ship given the public scrutiny over this month’s events.
The MCA had said earlier in the day that the Pride of Kent was undergoing checks to ensure it was safe to put to sea without passengers or cargo – ahead of a full inspection at a later date.
But the body revealed on Monday evening that she had failed to pass muster when it declared: “Our surveyors are in the process of detaining the Pride of Kent.”
“We are awaiting confirmation of all the detainable items.”
The reasons for the apparent inspection failure were expected to be revealed in the coming hours.
It announced the move as the government moved to raise the pressure on the company, with the transport secretary Grant Shapps telling P&O it now had “little choice” but to reverse the mass sackings.
In a letter to company boss Peter Hebblethwaite, who he has demanded resign, Mr Shapps said proposals being brought to parliament would “ensure that seafarers were protected against these types of actions”.
“Through that package, I intend to block the outcome that P&O Ferries has pursued, including paying workers less than the minimum wage,” he added.
He said this would leave P&O “one further opportunity” to offer all 800 workers their jobs back on previous terms, conditions and wages – if they want them back.
It is understood that around 430 people who had lost their jobs have already accepted P&O’s severance offer and are due to receive their payments next month.
Almost 70 captains and senior crew are further believed to have signed new contracts with the agency now providing personnel to P&O.
Understandably many who are currently working on the ships are nervous about talking to the media – given the backlash that P&O Ferries has faced.
Sky News has spoken to one seafarer aboard one of the ships stuck in Dover amid preparations to get the routes running again.
He described the situation as “all panic”.
“Preparations are stop-start,” he said, “far from smooth.
“I feel very sad, I feel bad for everyone that has been sacked, they’ve (P&O) treated everyone like animals.”
The replacement seafarers are currently on an average of £5.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage.
The decision to detain the Pride of Kent followed a similar inspection when MCA officials boarded P&O’s European Causeway ferry last week and prevented her from sailing.
The company has been told each vessel in its fleet must be deemed safe to operate because of the widespread change in crew.
P&O said on Monday afternoon: “We fully welcome the government’s commitment to increasing the minimum wage for all seafarers working in British waters.
“From the outset we have called for a level playing field when it comes to pay and conditions on British ferry routes.
“Our announcement is not about reducing seafarer’s wages, it is to enable us to have a fully flexible crewing model that allows us to meet the demands of our customers.
“The predicted savings we announced are not solely coming from the reduction in wages, but from removing job duplication and the benefits we will see from increased flexibility.”