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P&O suffers setback after second Dover-Calais ferry barred from sailing

P&O Ferries has suffered a setback in its efforts to return to full operations after maritime inspectors detained the Spirit of Britain, the second of two ferries on its Dover-Calais route to be barred from sailing.

The UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the vessel was held because surveyors identified “a number of deficiencies” that were grounds for detention.

The operator will need to address the issues before inviting the agency to make a second inspection of the ship.

P&O’s operations have been severely constrained since it announced on March 17 that it was dismissing all its 800 UK-based staff and replacing them with lower-paid agency workers.

The company will have to demonstrate that the replacement crews can safely conduct the necessary drills before the vessels are cleared to return to operation.

The company said last week that it hoped to restart operations on the popular Dover to Calais crossing this week.

Another ferry on the route, Pride of Kent, was detained on March 28. The MCA on Wednesday said that vessel was undergoing a reinspection but did not announce the outcome.

“There are no further inspections of P&O Ferries at the moment but we will reinspect at the appropriate time,” the agency said.

The Spirit of Britain’s detention will extend the period of constrained capacity between Dover and Calais, which has led to long delays for truck drivers crossing into Europe.

The MCA did not detail which faults inspectors had found on the vessel, but said it had advised P&O to invite the agency back once it had addressed the issues identified during the inspection.

“We do not know yet when this will be,” the agency said.

The MCA last month attributed the detention of another P&O vessel, the European Causeway, to “failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training”.

The European Causeway, which operates between Larne in Northern Ireland and Cairnryan in Scotland, was subsequently cleared to return to sailing. The Pride of Hull has also received clearance to resume operations between Hull and Rotterdam.

However, those are the only two vessels in the company’s fleet of eight ships so far cleared to resume sailing. Four other vessels have yet to be inspected.

P&O said it continued to work with “all relevant authorities” to return its ships to service.

“We take the safety of our passengers and crew very seriously and look forward to all of our ships welcoming tourist passengers and freight customers again as soon as all mandatory safety tests have been passed,” it said.

Peter Hebblethwaite, chief executive of P&O Ferries, last month admitted to MPs that the company’s decision to dismiss all its crews with no notice had been unlawful. But he insisted he would make the decision again because the business had been unviable with the current staff and their pay levels.

The replacement agency staff will be paid an average of £5.50 an hour, well below the UK’s £9.50 per hour minimum wage for people aged over 23.

The shutdown of P&O has been one of several factors contributing to the long delays on Channel crossings that last week led to queues of up to 20 miles on the M20 motorway in Kent.

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