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Seafarers fear future at Felixstowe

PUBLISHED: 03:32 02 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:46 03 March 2010

SPECULATION sweeping the shipping industry that P&O could be taken over has raised fresh fears for the future among its seafarers at Felixstowe.

Although the massive shipping and transport group has refused to comment on the suggestion, the rumours persist that a £2 billion bid is about to be tabled.

By Richard Cornwell

SPECULATION sweeping the shipping industry that P&O could be taken over has raised fresh fears for the future among its seafarers at Felixstowe.

Although the massive shipping and transport group has refused to comment on the suggestion, the rumours persist that a £2 billion bid is about to be tabled.

Officers and ratings on the P&O North Sea Ferries sailings at Felixstowe are bracing themselves for further possible changes to services, though no decisions have yet been confirmed by management.

The Evening Star has been contacted by seamen on board the vessels who are worried – takeover or not – about their jobs.

One rating said: "We keep hearing that another ship from Hull is coming down at Christmas or early in the New Year and then one of the ships already here, perhaps two of them, will go.

"Now we hear rumours of a take over. It's all very unsettling and we just don't know what to do for the best."

An officer said their union NUMAST had already held some meetings to discuss the concerns among staff about the future.

"We just wish we knew what is happening for definite. I don't want to leave this company and many of the others feel the same – we love doing our jobs, but this uncertainty is leaving us less than happy and hitting morale."

Last summer P&O NSF axed two ships. Fourteen people moving to Hull, and the remainder of the 122 seafarers affected – 74 ratings and 48 officers – were found new jobs elsewhere in the company or took voluntary redundancy.

P& O NSF cut the number of ships operating on its Felixstowe-Europoort services to three following falling cargo levels on the route.

The Pride of Suffolk was sold to P& O's Irish Sea operation, while the European Tideway is in dock and waiting for a buyer to be found.

The superfreighter Norbank was transferred to Felixstowe from Hull to work with the 16,776 ton Pride of Flanders, which carries 110 trailers, and 21,162 ton European Freeway, able to carry 150 trailers.

Workers fear that another superfreighter the Norbay is to arrive at Felixstowe from Hull soon, putting more seafarers jobs at risk as another older ship may have to go, but while the company has not ruled out such a scenario, it says that has not yet been confirmed and is not definite.

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.

In the first five months of this year volumes fell by 11 per cent. That 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 leaving too much spare capacity on its Felixstowe route.

The trade press says an unnamed company is lining up a bid for P&O. One favoured candidate, James Fisher plc, has said it is "not involved in any discussions" about an approach for P&O.

WEBLINK: www.ponsfreight.com

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