P&O ferries ‘shouldn’t sail on safety grounds’ says union after European Causeway vessel ran adrift without power near Larne

A leading transport union has warned that no P&O ferries should set sail on safety grounds, after one of the company’s vessels ran adrift off the coast of Larne.

P&O Ferries ship, European Causeway, was adrift five miles off the coast for more than an hour on Tuesday afternoon after losing power.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch was speaking after the government said it will legislate so that UK ports will be required to check whether ferry crews are paid at least the national minimum wage.

Mr Lynch said: “After yesterday’s vessel ran adrift off the coast of Larne, no P&O ferry should set sail on safety grounds.

A P&O ferry travelling from Scotland to Northern Ireland regained power after spending hours adrift in the Irish Sea on Tuesday. The European Causeway, which can carry up to 410 passengers, later docked at Larne Harbour. It left Cairnryan at about 12:00 BST and was due to arrive at Larne Harbour at 14:00 but got into trouble at 13:30. P&O said the incident was caused by a mechanical issue that had been resolved and a full inspection would take place when it docks in Larne.

“Staffing ferries with undertrained, ill-equipped, overworked and grossly underpaid seafarers blatantly undermines maritime safety.”

European Causeway, which can carry up to 410 passengers, got into difficulty after losing power while sailing between Cairnryan in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for P&O Ferries said it had been a temporary issue and the European Causeway had travelled to Larne “under its own propulsion”.

Yesterday, the MCA said: “Our surveyors are carrying out a full inspection of P&O Ferries vessel European Causeway.

“This follows the mechanical failure while it was at sea yesterday.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that UK ports must check that ferry crews are paid at least the minimum wage in response to the controversial sacking of 800 of P&O staff, who were replaced with agency workers from overseas paid below the minimum wage. The new P&O crew are paid an average of just £5.50 per hour.

This is below the UK’s national minimum wage of £9.50 per hour, but P&O Ferries insists it is in line with international maritime law.

Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, Mr Shapps said the government will include amendments to the 1964 Harbours Act in the Queen’s Speech on May 10.

“What we will require them [UK ports] to do is ask for confirmation and clarification – in the same way as they ask, for example, that the relevant insurance has been paid – that the relevant pay was being made.”

Mr Shapps said enforcement of minimum pay rules for ferry workers will be the responsibility of himself and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The minister urged P&O Ferries to repay the full £11m of pandemic furlough money it claimed.

P&O Ferries resumed cross-Channel sailings on Tuesday night for the first time since the mass sackings on March 17 when the vessel Spirit Of Britain began operating for freight customers. Passenger services are expected to resume early next week.

Spirit Of Britain was detained by the MCA on April 12 after safety issues were found, but was cleared to sail on Friday.