24 March 2022
RMT Press Office:
RMT and Nautilus raise alarm over safety of P&O ships in joint letter to Brian Johnson.
As Unions give evidence to MPs in Parliament this morning, RMT and Nautilus International have written to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to express serious concern that sacking P&O Ferries crew and replacing them with agency staff who have no experience of these ships. The agency staff are only receiving a few days familiarisation and will be put under intense pressure from the company which will have the effect of importing a far higher level of safety risk to passengers and workers meaning that lives will be put in jeopardy.
The letter to MCA Chief Executive Brian Johnson states:
Increase in safety risks on the P&O Ferries fleet
We are writing to you to express our serious concerns that the decision to sack long serving P&O Ferries crew and replace them with agency staff who have no experience of these ships. The agency staff are only receiving a few days familiarisation and will be put under intense pressure from the company which will have the effect of importing a far higher level of safety risk to passengers and workers meaning that lives will be put in jeopardy.
These concerns include:
- The replacement agency crew are having to contact sacked seafarers to inquire about basic safety features of the vessels such as access to Breathing Apparatus, Firefighting equipment and the vacuum system for the toilets on these vessels.
- Due to commercial pressure to resume services there are reports that the new crew are struggling to complete their familiarisation over a matter of days when this normally takes at least two weeks and probably longer given the numbers of replacement crew involved.
- Crew with an average of 20 years’ experience and knowledge of the ships are being replaced by those with who will only have a few days experience operating ships, some over thirty years old in a high intensity commercially pressured environment. Areas of concern include familiarisation process for fire safety, ventilation, fuel, ballast and sewage/grey water tanks.
- The company are replacing on board service seafarers who have the required seafarer certificate and training with crew where “no seafarers documents are needed, just previous experience in hospitality institutions.” Previously all crew members would have seafarer certificates and be trained in basic sea survival and firefighting in order to be included on the muster list in the event of an emergency. This will no longer be the case.
- P&O Ferries intend that the new employer of the crew will eventually be International Fleet Management, a company that was only created in February and has no record of working with or employing seafarers or knowledge of safety and other training seafarers need. Is this employer stated within the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance as the authorised employer by the shipowner?
- Despite a previous independent report commissioned by the Company showing that the current one-week on one week-off roster pattern significantly increased fatigue and therefore safety concerns (especially on the high intensity Dover-Calais route the company will now significantly increase the safety risks from fatigue by introducing continuous 8-week shifts.
- The Agency crew who have been deployed to the 8 vessels affected are from Ukraine, Latvia, India and Poland and will be working alongside Filipino crew in the case of the Irish Sea fleet and the Hull-Rotterdam route. Multiple languages raise serious concerns over the clear communication of Standard Maritime Communication Phrases onboard, particularly during an emergency situation.
- We do not know who is providing the induction training to the agency crew on all the vessels affected. This concern has been heightened by the tug required to pilot the Pride of Canterbury to a new berth in Dover – the new crew are not competent to operate this ship and we fear that the same will be the case on the other vessels.
- There has been no consultation on the safety validation process with RMT nor Nautilus International. We fear commercial pressures will mean that any replacement crew who may be given safety responsibilities on the ship will be hand-picked so as not to raise concerns and threatened with dismissal if they do.
- Familiarisation and understanding of emergency procedures onboard a vessel of these sizes cannot be obtained overnight, and takes considerable time to familiarise crew with the intimate aspects of drills such as bomb searches, medical evacuations, lifeboat launching, man overboard procedures and fire fighting.
Our specific issues and questions for the MCA are as follows:
- There has been no consultation with our unions on the safety validations process or the opportunity to input into it and provide comments. We would be grateful for your urgent confirmation that we will be provided with an opportunity to input into this process in a meaningful way and that you will publish all of your safety assessment processes and findings including the risk assessment for each vessel so they can be assessed and commented on.
- What contact has the MCA received from the Flag States, Bahamas, Cyprus, and Bermuda regarding the Port State Control process following the dismissal of the entire UK crew?
- Can the MCA confirm what training the onboard safety officers and safety representatives have had and are they aware of specific risk assessments onboard?
- Can the MCA confirm that the crew onboard have passed joint EU audits and inspections of safety requirements?
- Could you confirm that contacts the MCA has had with their counterparts in Bermuda, Bahamas and Cyprus concerning the flag state responsibilities to check the safety arrangements on board the company vessels?
We look forward to your reply on this urgent matter.
Mark Dickinson Mick Lynch
General Secretary General Secretary
Nautilus International RMT
CC Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon. Grant Shapps MP
CC Huw Merriman MP, Chair – Transport Select Committee