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Safety fears raised as P&O ferry impounded

Impounded: European Causeway

Unions have raised concerns over safety after a P&O Ferries vessel serving the route between Scotland and Northern Ireland was impounded in port because it was “unfit to sail”.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency confirmed the European Causeway had been held in Larne because of “failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training”.

It comes just days after P&O Ferries sacked 800 staff without notice and hired agency crew on lower wages.

The firm said there were no passengers on board the European Causeway when it was held in Northern Ireland and it would make the changes needed to return the ship to service.

MCA said the vessel would remain under detention until all issues were resolved by P&O Ferries.

However, unions have raised fears over a lack of training of new crew.

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The general secretary of the RMT union, Mick Lynch, said that the seizing of the ferry suggested the firm was not “fit and proper to run a safe service after the jobs massacre”.

He called for the sacked crews to be reinstated “to get these crucial ferry routes back running safely”.

Maritime trade union Nautilus International said the importance of a well-trained crew “cannot be overstated”.

General secretary Mark Dickinson said this was “even more the case” for an operator like P&O Ferries, which carries up to 2,000 passengers a day and follows extremely tight schedules along one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

“The consequences can be fatal when commercial pressure takes precedence over safety concerns in the ferry sector,” he said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I will not compromise the safety of these vessels, and P&O will not be able to rush inexperienced crew through training.”

Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh called for the sacked workers to be reinstated and for P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite to be “barred” as a director.

“The shameful misconduct of P&O Ferries has ruined livelihoods, and is harming the UK’s key shipping routes,” she said.

P&O Ferries advised customers on Twitter that its services remained suspended. Referring to its route from Larne, it said: “It is no longer possible for us to arrange travel via an alternative operator on this route.

“For essential travel, customers are advised to seek alternatives themselves.”

It said that an MCA inspection had deemed the European Causeway “not sufficiently ready for entry into operation”.

“We shall review the findings, make any changes required and continue to work closely with the MCA to return the ship to service.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed Mr Shapps’s calls for the resignation of Mr Hebblethwaite after he admitted to MPs that he broke the law by not consulting workers ahead of the job cuts – and said he would do the same again if he had to.

See also: Blockade planned at Scottish port

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