1,200 jobs axed as P&O shuts four ferry routes

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The Independent Online

The shipping giant P&O is to close four of its 13 ferry routes with the loss of about 1,200 jobs, it was announced today.

The shipping giant P&O is to close four of its 13 ferry routes with the loss of about 1,200 jobs, it was announced today.

Reducing the number of ships it operates from 31 to 23, the company said it would be closing all its Western Channel routes except Portsmouth-Bilbao.

The move, which is being bitterly opposed by shipping union the RMT, is expected to save £55 million a year.

P&O said its tourist traffic had been "adversely affected by fewer day trips and the expansion of the low-cost airlines".

It added that on its Western Channel routes the number of ships operated will be reduced from six to one.

One of the surplus ships will be redeployed elsewhere, one will be redelivered to the owner and three will be chartered out - two to Brittany Ferries and the other subject to ongoing discussions with third parties.

On the Dover-Calais route, six ships will be operated compared with seven at present but, through rescheduling, service frequency and capacity in peak periods will be unchanged.

The company added that "new, more flexible manning arrangements and changes in work practices are proposed".

The company also said that as many as 350 jobs would be transferred.

P&O chief executive Robert Woods added: "I am determined to see a major improvement in the profitability of P&O Ferries.

"What we are announcing today will enable us to have a simplified, customer-focused product operated on fewer routes with fewer ships and a substantially lower, more flexible cost base.

"Whilst we greatly regret the possible job losses, we are convinced that what we are proposing is the best way forward for the long-term prosperity of the business."

The restructuring, which the company hopes to be largely in place by the middle of next year, will mean the axing of the Portsmouth-Cherbourg, Portsmouth-Caen and Portsmouth-Le Havre routes as well as Rosslare-Cherbourg.

Mr Woods said: "The object of all this is to turn this business round. It will not be painless as there are significant numbers of people involved.

"Initial consultation with staff shows the workforce is supportive of change and we believe there should not be industrial action. It would not be in anyone's interest."

He went on: "We hope there will be a good response from volunteers for redundancy but there will have to be compulsory job losses."

P&O currently employs 3,600 sea-going staff and 2,500 shore-based workers.

Rival company Brittany Ferries said that subject to agreement it would be chartering the P&O vessels Pride of Le Havre and Pride of Portsmouth and offering an alternative Portsmouth-Le Havre service.

Additionally, Brittany Ferries said it may re-align capacity on some of its existing routes.

New timetables covering any re-alignment and the provisional plans for the Portsmouth-Le Havre route would be announced "in due course".

Brittany Ferries managing director David Longden said: "These are challenging times for the ferry industry with the Channel Tunnel, new seasonal services, increasing competition from low-cost airlines, and continuous price pressure, led in particular by the Dover-Calais route, resulting in downward pressure on rates.

"The developments will enable us to provide our customers, both passenger and freight, with the reassurance of route choice and the highest level of service.

"This initiative by Brittany Ferries will also help to secure continuity and a significant number of jobs, both on-shore in Portsmouth and Le Havre, as well as on board the two ships involved."