Jobs axe shock as P&O pulls out
PORTWORKERS were left reeling today after a shattering jobs blow with the news that P&O North Sea Ferries is pulling out of Felixstowe for good.Up to 50 land-side jobs could be lost and those of more than 150 seafarers as the company is closing its freight routes between the port and Europe.
By Richard Cornwell
PORTWORKERS were left reeling today after a shattering jobs blow with the news that P&O North Sea Ferries is pulling out of Felixstowe for good.
Up to 50 land-side jobs could be lost and those of more than 150 seafarers as the company is closing its freight routes between the port and Europe.
Although the loss of P&O – one of the oldest customers of the port – is a major blow and came as a shock to many, workers had been worried for some time that closure was on the cards.
P&O NSF officials have denied twice in the past year that the company was considering pulling out of Suffolk, but admitted last autumn that it had not ruled out further changes.
Today the P&O shipping group announced that it planned to close three cross-Channel routes and its two routes run from Felixstowe as part of a major overhaul of its North Sea and Dover sailings.
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A P&O spokesman said the decision reflected the inability of the routes "to achieve an adequate return, despite the best efforts of management".
The company would minimise the impact on jobs, but there were likely to be cuts among the group's 50-strong workforce in the port of Felixstowe.
Talks would be taking place with staff about redundancy packages and the possibility of moves within the group – although that will mean moving families to other parts of the country.
Five ships are used on the Felixstowe routes. Two are chartered and Stena Line is in talks to take over the remaining three, which could save some seafarers' jobs. The company is buying out Dutch partner Stena Line's 40 per cent share of their four-year-old P&O Stena Line joint venture for £150 million.
"We are extending our position on profitable routes and moving out of unprofitable ones," said the spokesman.
"P&O Stena Line is a good business but by having a single operator again we feel it will give us a better opportunity to maximise the strength of our brand."
There were major changes to the P&O NSF operations at Felixstowe last autumn when alterations were made to sailings.
Some 140 seafarers were faced with losing their jobs with some found new jobs elsewhere in the company or took voluntary redundancy. Fourteen families moved from Suffolk to Hull to take up new posts.
The number of ships on the Felixstowe-Europoort services was cut from four to three following falling cargo levels on the route.
P&O NSF has said that since it took over the Felixstowe operations from P&O European Ferries in 1997 it has seen no growth in cargo volumes.
That year had been the best year when a fire in the Channel Tunnel had forced much more cargo on to sea routes. In contrast the first half of last year saw volumes fall by 11pc.
This was due partly to long-pegged freight rates being increased and driving customers away to competitors, and over capacity on the Continental runs through the Haven Ports.
Seven years ago the company axed its passenger sailings between Felixstowe-Zeebrugge, which had been used by 500,000 people a year. Despite a long campaign by local councillors and tourist traders, P&O refused to reinstate the services and said the decision had been made for sound commercial reasons