A second P&O Ferries vessel has been detained in Kent over safety fears – throwing the company’s plans to restart Channel crossings into doubt.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) says it has detained The Spirit of Britain in the Port of Dover after finding ‘deficiencies’ during a safety inspection.
It is the second of the firm’s ferries to fail a safety test by the MCA, following its decision to detain The Pride of Kent.
The decision comes after P&O controversially sacked 800 seafarers without notice last month, leading to Dover to Calais crossings being suspended.
It had planned for the Spirit of Britain to restart crossings again on Thursday, ahead of what is expected to be a busy weekend for Channel crossings.
However, after a two-day reinspection of the Spirit of Britain by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, it has now been confirmed that the vessel has failed a number of key safety tests.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) says it has detained The Spirit of Britain (pictured left) in the Port of Dover after finding deficiencies’ during a safety inspection. It is the second of the firm’s ferries to fail a safety test by the MCA, following its decision to detain The Pride of Kent (pictured foreground)
According to the British Meat Processors Association, hotels and supermarket chains on the continent are fed up of waiting and are turning to more reliable suppliers. (Pictured: Freight lorries queue at the Port of Dover on Tuesday)
A spokesperson for the MCA said: ‘The Spirit of Britain has been detained due to surveyors identifying a number of deficiencies which were grounds for detention.
‘We have advised P&O to invite us back once they have addressed the issues. We do not know yet when this will be.’
The MCA has been making its way through inspections of eight P&O Ferries to ensure they are fit to sail.
The Pride of Hull and European Causeway have been inspected and cleared to sail.
A P&O Ferries spokesperson said: ‘The Spirit of Britain will remain berthed in its current port, following inspections by the Maritime & Coastguard Authority (MCA).
In the past few days, both the European Causeway and the Pride of Hull have been deemed safe to sail by the MCA, and we continue to work with all relevant authorities to return all our ships to service.
We take the safety of our passengers and crew very seriously and look forward to all of our ships welcoming tourist passengers and freight customers again as soon as all mandatory safety tests have been passed.’
The move will be a major setback for P&O Ferries in its plan to restart Dover to Calais ferry crossings.
Officials had hoped to restart Channel crossings on Thursday, following their suspencion in March.
The suspencion came after P&O Ferries sacked 800 of its seafaring staff without notice – a move which has sparked criticism, including from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
The firm has attempted replaced workers, who are reported to have earned around £36,000 a year, with agency staff from India being paid £1.80 an hour, it was claimed at a Commons select committee last month.
The restarting of crossings is seen as key to avoiding major disruption around the Port of Dover over Easter.
Backlogs of freight traffic and the launch of the Government’s emergency Operation Brock Zero – which sees the M20 in Kent closed to non-freight traffic – has been mostly been caused by the absence of P&O Ferries’ three Dover-based ships.
More backlogs are expected over Easter, with holidaymakers also expected to flock to Dover from Thursday ahead of the four-day Easter weekend.
Warning of Easter delays, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘I think certainly this weekend will be extremely busy on our roads, potentially at our ports, and of course, particularly at Dover, where P&O disgracefully sacked all of their staff and then attempted to run ships that wouldn’t have been safe with replacements below minimum wage.
‘We know none of their ships are running at the moment. So I do expect there to be disruption, with no thanks to P&O there.
‘It is also the case for the very first time that Brits are able to travel much more freely that other nations because we don’t have Covid restrictions now that other places have to travel.
‘People want to travel. I’m very concerned the operators, the airlines, the airports, the ports, do ensure that they get back to strength and quickly. They have lost a lot of people during the pandemic, we have been warning them for a long time that they would need to gear up again.
‘I’m very keen to ensure that they manage, what always is at Easter weekend, a very busy weekend on our transport network.’
It comes as industry leaders warned British meat producers are shedding customers to their European rivals while being held up at hours-long border queues in Dover.
According to the British Meat Processors Association, some hotels, restaurants and supermarket chains on the continent are fed up of waiting for stock to arrive and are turning to more reliable suppliers.
It comes as Britain’s busiest port is being forced to contend with a perfect storm of bad weather, a pressure on services due to the Easter holiday rush and continued issues with the P&O ferry service that sacked its workers.
Some of the British Meat Processors Association’s members have claimed it is taking more than a day to get across the channel – with the quality of their products declining by the hour.
They have appealed to the Government for the most perishable products to be given priority but there are no plans as of yet to introduce such a policy.
A spokesman for the British Meat Processors Association told MailOnline: ‘Dover deals with a huge amount of fresh meat, ranging from carcasses to packed sausages and chops and steaks.
Britain’s busiest port is being forced to contend with a perfect storm of bad weather, a pressure on services due to the Easter holiday rush and continued issues with the P&O ferry service that sacked its workers. (Pictured: Freight lorries at Port of Dover on Tuesday)
Some of the British Meat Processors Association’s members have claimed it is taking more than a day to get across the channel – with the quality of their products declining by the hour. (Pictured: Restaurant in Paris, France)
‘The issue that we’re having is this is fresh, chilled meat has a shelf life. You should be looking at a 24 hour turnaround to get it onto the supermarket shelves.
‘But we are seeing delays of two or more days. So that means it loses shelf life and is worth less when it reaches the destination.
‘In some cases foreign customers like restaurants, hotels and supermarket chains are turning from British to continental meat suppliers who aren’t experiencing these border problems.
‘This problem is not so much to do with the bureaucracy of paperwork but more about the delays that have been caused by the perfect storm of P&O, holidaymakers to the Continent, weather in the Channel, IT problems.’
MailOnline has contacted the Department of Transport for comment.
Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, previously called for lorries with fresh food on board to be prioritised.
He told BBC’s Farming: ‘There are areas they can pull lorries off onto, and because you need an export health certificate everything is pre-notified. You just need a will to do it.’
It comes after the controversial ferry service P&O suspended the route from Calais to Dover until Thursday at least, it said on Sunday. Services remained cancelled today.
In light of this recent announcement, the Department for Transport has not taken any move to change how perishable items are transported.
Meanwhile, the infamous Operation Brock contraflow continued today, which sees a large chunk of the M20 in Kent closed to all non-freight traffic.
Coastbound traffic on the motorway is split into a two way system with traffic lights signalling when there is more room for lorries or haulage vehicles at the port.
Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, previously called for lorries with fresh food on board to be prioritised. (Pictured: Lorries queue at Dover on Tuesday)
The controversial ferry service P&O has suspended the route from Calais to Dover until Thursday at least, it said at the weekend
Meanwhile, on the A20, lorries queue in the left-hand lane on the approach to Dover in a separate scheme called Dover TAP.
It is designed to stop roads in Dover from being blocked by queuing lorries but has seen huge delays.
The worst of the delays appear at the weekends, as more people look to get away for the weekend while businesses on the continent are demanding more meat and other products to cope with higher demand.
On Saturday a 23-mile lorry queue, including more than 2,000 lorries, built up on the M20 as part of Operation Brock Zero.
Mr Allen said the delay was a blow for the industry.
He told the BBC: ‘We are told to expect disruption well into next week. With Easter weekend approaching and a very busy time for exporting fresh meat, this is really bad timing.’
Lockerbie-based Eardley International said this is putting huge pressure on their fresh meat business, and can mean he loses out on £800 per truck.
Graham Eardley, company director at Eardley said: ‘Now we are seeing delays of 20 to 25 hours to cross the Channel, and the quality and the sale value of that product falls by every hour it is delayed.’
Experts urged the Government to consider a priority system for haulage vehicles containing fresh foods.
But Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Breakfast such a system would be difficult to stand up at short notice and on a large scale.
‘My understanding is that things are now moving in the right direction so this was a temporary problem caused by a surge of traffic around the commencement of the Easter period,’ he said.
It comes as motorists have been warned that they face a week of travel chaos with the Easter weekend getaway predicted to be the busiest in eight years.
The RAC warned of motorway gridlocks as a record 21.5 million drivers prepare to take to the roads ahead of the four-day weekend, the most since the organisation began tracking motorists’ Easter plans in 2014.
Pictured: Travel information for this year’s Easter weekend
The RAC warned of motorway gridlocks as a record 21.5 million drivers prepare to take to the roads ahead of the four-day weekend, the most since the organisation began tracking motorists’ Easter plans in 2014. Pictured: Heavy traffic on the M25 between Junction 9 and 10, Surrey, on Sunday
It also urged drivers to try and and travel after 7.30pm to avoid congestion.
RAC research showed Good Friday is set to be the busiest, with 4.62 million trips planned, followed by Easter Monday, when just under 4 million drivers are expected to be out and about.
A further 7.2 million will travel on Saturday and Sunday, with another 5.6 million not yet decided on which day they will set off.
Inrix, the traffic information supplier, highlighted several likely congestion hotspots.
The congestion hotspots include: The M6 north between Junction 26 (Orrell Interchange, Greater Manchester) and Junction 36 (the Lake District), The M25 clockwise from Junction 8 (Reigate Hill Interchange, Surrey) to Junction 16 (Denham Interchange, Buckinghamshire) and The A303 near Stonehenge, Wiltshire.
Motorists wanting to avoid as much congestion as possible are advised to start their journeys before 9am or delay their journeys until after 7.30pm.
More than 500 engineering works are taking place amid strikes on vast swathes of northern rail routes.
It will create mayhem for the thousands of football fans travelling to London for the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley.
Meanwhile Europe-bound motorists have reported being stuck in traffic for six hours on Kent roads, and a 20-mile stretch of the M20 has been closed to store more than 4,000 lorries.
To make matters worse, getaways will be the most expensive on record due to sky-high fuel prices.
Latest Government figures show the average cost of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts on April 4 was 161.9p, with diesel at 176.0p.
There could also be diesel or petrol shortages due to protesting eco-warriors blocking off fuel terminals, slowing down deliveries.
RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: ‘After two years of relatively quiet Easter bank holidays on the roads, our research suggests a return to traffic levels that are much more typical of this time of year.
‘It’s very possible this weekend could turn out to be one of the busiest for leisure journeys for many years.
‘Add in the impact of disruption on the rail network and one of the biggest fixtures of the sporting calendar taking place this weekend, and you have all the ingredients needed for problems on the roads.
‘Traffic volumes will likely be even higher if some warm spring sunshine makes an appearance.’