P&O bosses confident of avoiding fine after mass sacking of seafarers in March 2022

The European Causeway docked in Larne

Bosses at P&O Ferries have said they remain confident of avoiding a fine for sacking nearly 800 seafarers without notice.

The annual report of the DP World-owned ferry operator said its directors think an ongoing inquiry by the Insolvency Service will not result in any punishment.

Workers told UTV at the time how they felt like criminals when private security staff came on board their vessels on 18 March 2022 and told them to leave within 20 minutes or face being handcuffed.

It led to widespread criticism from politicians and trade unions as the workers were replaced with agency staff.

This led to ships including the European Causeway that operates between Larne and Cairnryan being detained due to safety concerns.

But a criminal investigation into what happened did not result in a prosecution.

In relation to the ongoing civil inquiry, P&O Ferries’ annual report said: “The Insolvency Service would need to show that any action it proposed to take was in the public interest and just and equitable.

“The directors consider that it will not be able to demonstrate this and consequentially there is a less than remote possibility of a related economic outflow in relation to any such action.”

This means the company does not think a provision for the investigation is needed in its accounts.

All affected employees were “compensated in full” for the lack of consultation, the document said, leading to enhanced redundancy packages costing a total of £36.5 million.

There was a “further impact” from the redundancies in the time it took for ships to return to service due to familiarisation requirements for the new crews and safety checks.

The operator’s financial results for 2021 – before the mass sackings occurred – show its pre-tax losses trebled to £374.5 million, from £103.3 million the previous year.

The annual report said: “The directors recognise that the actions taken in March 2022 were perceived negatively by sections of the national media and political leaders.

“The directors maintain that the actions taken were necessary for the long-term financial health of the business and that public sentiment will gradually recover towards the business as it continues to operate in a transparent and compliant manner.”

It said the company’s directors believe the company “will have sufficient funds to continue to meet its liabilities”.

But the document acknowledges there is “a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the group’s and company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

This is partly due to a dependence on the availability of “sufficient debt facilities”.

A spokesman for P&O Ferries said the financial accounts confirm the business “needed to make major changes to its operating model in order to survive”.

He went on: “These changes mean we have secured the long-term future of the business, the service our customers rely on and our critical role in keeping the UK connected.

“We are working hard to return the business to long-term profitability, and to thrive in a highly competitive market.

“We are working hard to return the business to long-term profitability, and to thrive in a highly competitive market.

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