P&O Ferries: What happened, can I still travel and what are my rights?

The sacking of hundreds of seafarers by P&O Ferries has led to the suspension of ferry services between the UK and parts of Europe including Ireland.

Announcing the decision on Thursday, the ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.

But what does it mean for those who need to travel on the ferries?

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– Why did this happen?

A worker inside the P&O Pride of Canterbury at the Port of Dover as P&O Ferries suspended sailings and handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices, saying: "Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes."

P&O blamed the sacking of 800 workers on losses of £100 million following the slump in travel because of the pandemic.

Politicians have denounced the move and trade unions have called for wider public support for demonstrations in Dover, Liverpool and Hull on Friday.

– Which services are affected?

The firm said early on Friday all its ferries are “unable to run for the next few days”, with services impacted including Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin, and from Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

– Does that mean I cannot travel?

Not necessarily. P&O said despite its ferries being unavailable, “where possible we are organising travel via an alternative operator”.

“Space is very limited so we suggest if your journey is not essential, please do not travel today,” the company added.

Travellers at the ports of Dover and Calais were instructed by P&O to make their way to the check-in booths for Danish firm DFDS. There were no such instructions for those at Hull, Rotterdam, Liverpool, Dublin, Cairnryan or Larne.

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– Are there implications for freight?

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons noted more than half of the nation’s freight moves through Larne port, with the MLA adding the move “will also cause supply problems for companies and supermarkets in Northern Ireland, as well as those firms based here who sell to GB”.

His Stormont colleague Nichola Mallon called on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to “take every possible step to save jobs and to maintain connectivity for passengers and freight on Irish Sea routes”.

– What are my rights as a passenger?

Travel trade organisation Abta says customers should be informed as soon as possible when an operator expects a departure to be cancelled. If this is on the day of travel, you should be informed no later than 30 minutes after your scheduled time of departure.

Free snacks, meals and refreshments should be provided if your ferry is expected to be cancelled, Abta advises, but this need only take place if meals are available or can be reasonably supplied.

Abta says a ferry operator should offer the choice of an alternative or a refund if a service is cancelled and the operator should offer free accommodation if an overnight stay becomes necessary because of the cancellation.

Accommodation may be provided on board the ferry or ashore, while the ferry operator is also free to look at other options including asking the passenger to go home or make their own arrangements and be reimbursed for the expenses.

The ferry operator may limit accommodation costs to £66 per night per passenger for a maximum of three nights, Abta says.

– What does P&O say?

The company’s terms and conditions on delayed or cancelled sailings state: “We will seek to provide you, your luggage and vehicle with the journey as booked although ferries, sailing times/dates and destinations may be affected by weather conditions, port closures, industrial disputes or changed by other operational requirements.”

“If your departure is delayed and your journey will no longer serve any purpose, having regard to your original travel plan, a refund of the full ticket price shall be considered upon submission of reasonable supporting evidence,” the conditions add.

– What compensation is available?

Abta advises travellers are entitled to compensation of 25% of their ticket price, for that part of the affected journey, if your service is delayed for at least one hour for a journey of duration four hours, two hours for a journey of duration between four and eight hours, three hours for a journey of duration between eight and 24 hours or six hours for a journey of duration of over 24 hours.