Stem the Tide: P&O Ferries held back after failing safety checks twice

April 20, 2022

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

Following the failure of a second inspection conducted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), P&O Ferries remain detained at Dover.

What does this mean?

The UK’s leading ferry operator, P&O, had its services initially suspended back on Thursday 17 March 2022 after making 800 UK-based staff redundant without notice to hire lower-paid agency workers instead. Now, two of its ferries, Pride of Kent and Spirit of Britain, which serve the Dover to Calais routes remain suspended after the MCA reported several deficiencies around the safety and crew documentations after the reinspection of the Pride of Kent.

Though the MCA did not set out the faults detected on the vessels publicly, P&O Ferries alleged that the MCA approached inspections with “an unprecedented level of rigour”. The company was expecting to resume operations in the Dover to Calais crossing in the second week of April, however it is unable to do so without addressing the issues raised by the MCA. With P&O acknowledging that they “take the safety of passengers and crew very seriously”, the MCA is to continue its inspections of all eight P&O Ferries until they pass the necessary safety checks.

What's the big picture effect?

The deferment of P&O services already started to cause distress around travel disruption at the ports in Kent, including Dover. The absence of P&O ferries and other factors, such as bad weather, easter holidays and the problems with the customs check IT systems resulted in a long queue of lorries on the road ahead of the ports due a capacity shortage.

As a result of the congestion, drivers have been stuck on the road with no access to food, water, and washing facilities. Ian Uttley, director of Stagefreight, describes their situation as “inhumane”, where drivers are forced to wait on the motorway for over 20 hours under such conditions. With the transport industry calling out concerns over the drivers’ situations, there has been an urgent call by Logistics UK for a “rapid reinstatement of full ferry capacity”. Operation Brock, the traffic management system responsible for the control of vehicles across the English Channel, was called to be “urgently” reviewed and devise a plan to give lorries access to use the whole side of the M20 into Dover. The traffic management system is under frequent review by Highways England and the Kent County Council, the latter of which has failed to ease the drivers’ situations, saying it was not possible to provide facilities for them.

In addition to the suffering of drivers, the goods being carried in the lorries are starting to decrease in quality and lose value. For example, the British Meat Processors Association stated that a few of its partners had to wait over 24 hours to cross the Channel, which resulted in meat and other food items perishing. These delays cost up to ÂŁ800 worth of business per lorry. With high demand in place, consumers began sourcing goods from other countries which has caused a loss of business to the UK and in turn, significant decreases in profits.

Although the queues have started easing and traffic management systems have been put in place, it seems as if the only effective solution will be the P&O Ferries passing the checks conducted by the MCA. P&O Ferries is yet to advise an ETA for another inspection, but all hopes are on a successful reinspection which will remove the blockages that have been caused and allow business to sail smoothly again.

Report written by Noor Farid

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