UK government ‘slow’ to support ferry services

28 April 2020

The owner of P&O Ferries has accused the UK government of being slow to respond to a call for financial support. 

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, head of DP World, told the BBC P&O needs £257m in aid to avoid collapse, adding it has applied to the UK government for £150m.

The firm, which transports 15% of goods into the UK, suspended its passenger business and furloughed 1,100 staff in response to the ongoing pandemic last month. 

Bin Sulayem said P&O had applied for aid to “save the jobs of these people”.

“The government has been slow. We need to safeguard these jobs – a lot of people's lives depends on this company,” he said. 

“P&O plays a vital role in the UK and thousands of jobs depend on this company. We have to be sure that when this is over we can bounce back and save these jobs.”

Last month, Janette Bell, CEO of P&O Ferries, said the firm would be focusing on its freight business as passenger demand had fallen.

“With respect to the United Kingdom, we bring in about 15% of all the goods that the country currently urgently needs. The biggest part of which [33%] is food, including fresh fruit and vegetables from southern Europe and North Africa, as well as vital medicines and medical equipment. P&O Ferries is also handling important but hazardous goods such as detergents and cleaning products,” she said. 

“Ordinarily, for P&O Ferries to provide the service required for the transport of freight, there needs to be a mix of passengers and cargo on the ships. However, due to the outbreak of Covid-19, there are now very few passengers travelling and we cannot sustain these normal operations. Consequently, P&O Ferries will be suspending its passenger business and we will be focusing all of our efforts on maintaining the flow of freight to Britain.”

Last week, transport secretary Grant Shapps unveiled a £17m support package to help freight operators continue running vital services between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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