Logistics companies are reacting to the suspension of sailings by P&O Ferries yesterday (Thursday 17 March) by opting for other carriers, who say they have plenty of additional capacity.
At 7.30am yesterday P&O suddenly suspended sailings on four key routes from Great Britain to the European Continent and to the island of Ireland, making 800 seafarers redundant.
P&O Ferries said it had made a £100m loss across two consecutive years, prompting the suspension of services and redundancies, with 800 roles to be filled by agency workers on cheaper contracts.
‘Well-used to switching’
According to a spokesperson for Logistics UK, its members have adapted to the situation in order to keep supply chains moving.
“Hauliers have accounts with the various ferry companies and Eurotunnel and are well-used to switching between them when they need to,” a spokesperson told the IOE&IT’s Daily Update.
“There appears to be plenty of capacity at the moment. It isn’t the Easter holidays so that isn’t a factor,” the spokesperson said, adding that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are peak time for freight movements.
Observers note that another factor in keeping freight moving is the extra time traders seem to have built into their schedules to handle additional post-Brexit administration at borders.
After making its announcement at lunchtime yesterday, P&O Ferries diverted its bookings on the Dover-Calais route to Danish shipper DFDS.
At 5.48pm Thursday 17 March, P&O Ferries tweeted that “if travel [between Dover and Calais] is unavoidable, once at the port please make your way to the DFDS check-in booths. We apologise for the inconvenience …”.
The ‘don’t panic’ message from alternative shippers was echoed by a spokesperson for Stenaline, who noted an increased demand for services on the Irish Sea and North Sea. “We are busy but there are no issues. We are lucky, as we have wide range of routes.”
Ireland to Great Britain
Stenaline pointed to alternative options available to freight customers from Belfast to Cairnryan, Heysham and Birkenhead, as well as services from Holyhead to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.
From the Humber, services from Immingham to Rotterdam and Killingholme to Hook of Holland are in operation, while in Essex sailings from Harwich to Hook of Holland and Rotterdam continue.
As photos of queues at Dover were posted on social media, the Port of Dover issued a statement yesterday, saying it was “doing all it can to minimise any disruption to the local community as well as its wider operations, working with Kent partners as the transition to P&O Ferries’ new arrangements takes place”.
P&O has told the government it is suspending its services for up to 10 days as it looks to find crew to replace the 800 staff it sacked yesterday.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday (Thursday 17 March), transport minister Robert Coutts said the government had “long planned contingencies” for this sort of situation.
He did not “expect the supply of critical goods and services to be impacted as a result of this decision by P&O, although queues on the way to Dover are more likely to occur at times”.
CEO Peter Hebblethwaite has said that the decision to replace the fired staff with agency workers will reduce the firm’s crewing costs by 50%, reports the Mirror.
In a letter Hebblethwaite described its new partnership with crewing company International Ferry Management, adding new teams has already joined ships and were going through a process of intense familiarisation and training.
“Only when that process has happened, will we gradually return to a normal service safely and securely – upholding our P&O standards and brand,” he said.
While the government is looking closely at the legality of the redundancies, there have been protests today (Friday 18 March) in Dover, Hull and Liverpool.
Manchester mayor Andy Burnham called on the government to consider nationalising P&O, reports the Liverpool Echo.