P&O Ferries has suspended all sailings between Liverpool and Dublin until further notice following action taken by Mersey Docks & Harbour Company earlier today to prevent NORBAY leaving Liverpool. The freight orientated Ro-Pax ferry was already loaded for her usual sailing to Dublin this morning when she was detained as part of an ongoing payment dispute. Sister-ship NORBANK had loaded in Dublin but has now discharged the vehicles from her cargo decks. It is understood that much of the accompanied traffic due to cross with P&O today has transferred to the Dublin to Holyhead services offered by Irish Ferries and Stena Line instead.
Peel Ports subsidiary Mersey Docks & Harbours Company owns and administers the Port of Liverpool. Dubai-owned P&O Ferries claim that the company is demanding payment of a bill totally nearly £600,000 for the use of the port facilities. According to a report in the Liverpool Echo, P&O Ferries claims they actually only owe around two thirds of that figure. As reported on this site earlier today, P&O Ferries have said they have always remained committed to pay the money they owe in full and have asked for flexibility from port operators.
At the time of writing, NORBAY remains tied up at P&O Ferries usual berth at Gladstone Dock in the Liverpool dock system. The third ship on the route, CLIPPER PENNANT which is chartered from Seatruck, is also thought to be currently empty. Peel Ports have said that some of P&O’s claims are “factually inaccurate” and described the detention of NORBAY as a “last-resort”. The company has added that other services between Liverpool and both Dublin and Belfast continue to operate.
Vital Supplies at Risk?
P&O Ferries’ claim that the route suspension puts the supply chain at risk doesn’t appear to add up given the wealth of other ferry links between the North of England and Scotland to the Island of Ireland. Seatruck Ferries offers a freight service from Dublin to Liverpool in direct competition with P&O’s suspended route, while Stena Line operates the route between Birkenhead and Belfast. Both of these operators have a ship tied up at present due to a lack of freight demand. Additionally, there are also services from Heysham to Warrenpoint, Belfast, and Dublin as well as the Irish Ferries and Stena Line services between Holyhead and Dublin. P&O Ferries also offer sailings between Cairnryan and Larne while Stena Line sails between Cairnryan and Belfast. It is understood that all of these routes are operating with spare capacity following a huge downturn in both freight and passengers due to COVID-19 Coronavirus restrictions both sides of the Irish Sea. Indeed, some services have already had to be cut due to the lack of traffic.
A Peel Ports spokesperson has said
“The Port of Liverpool plays a vital role in many critical supply chains from all over the world, handling products needed in the medical & healthcare sector, food industry and energy generation.
“Customers who refuse to pay their bills put these other supply chains at risk.
Any decision to detain a vessel is always taken as a last-resort and only when there is a significant debt to repay.
“While we understand that we are in unprecedented times, the UK government has announced multiple financial interventions that will support companies with short-term funding issues as a result of Covid-19.
“These should be used as opposed to passing the cash-flow risk along the supply chain.
“Other ferry services from Liverpool to both Dublin and Belfast continue to operate, with multiple departures per day and spare capacity.”
Situations such as these tend to be very fluid and as such the information above is only correct at the time of writing. A speedy resolution and resumption of service on the route cannot be ruled out.