Ministers open criminal investigation into P&O Ferries

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A criminal investigation has been opened against P&O Ferries following the dismissal of 800 sailors a fortnight ago.

The Insolvency Service said it had “launched formal criminal and civil investigations” into the actions of the ferry operator and its directors.

In a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, officials said they had conducted a review of the events surrounding the sacking.

UK companies must notify the government before laying off more than 100 workers. Failure to do so may be a criminal offence.

Ministers claimed that P&O did not “appear” to comply with these laws.

P&O said it informed Whitehall officials a day before the layoffs. Moreover, it was only required to inform the country whose flag its vessels were flying. P&O “repaved” its ships in Cyprus and the Bahamas in 2019.

The criminal investigation comes with seven of P&O’s eight ferries moored in ports while the Maritime and Coastguard Agency carry out security checks. Two P&O vessels – the Pride of Kent and the European Causeway – have been detained after failing agency tests.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has pledged to force P&O and other operators to pay the minimum wage of £9.50 an hour in UK waters.

However, Mr Shapps conceded he would need the support of EU countries to push through the changes while the new legislation is debated and put in place.

He faced a backlash from port operators on Wednesday over their plans to turn away ships that employed staff not paying the UK minimum wage.

Richard Ballantyne, head of the British Ports Association, said Mr Shapps’ proposals were “unworkable”.

An Insolvency Service spokesperson said: ‘As these are ongoing investigations, no further comment or information can be provided at this time.

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