A wave of public anger swept over the British ferry market leader after the sudden dismissal of 800 seafarers: "Mutineers on P&O Ferries," headlined the Daily Mail on Friday.

"Treason," thundered another tabloid.

The company, the British market leader for ferry connections, had terminated all crew members the day before without any prior notice – via zoom video message.

The seafarers heard the clear announcement: "Your last day of work is today."

Philip Pickert

Business correspondent based in London.

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Without warning, P&O also suspended all ferry services, the services between Dover and Calais, between Hull and Rotterdam and all other routes on which they carry more than twenty thousand passengers a day.

Stranded holidaymakers, cars and trucks were jammed at the ports.

According to P&O, no ships will sail for up to ten days.

The mass dismissal of the entire crew is unavoidable due to high losses, wrote P&O Ferries.

Last year, the company posted a deficit of 100 million pounds (around 120 million euros), which the parent company DP World from Dubai has to absorb.

As British trade unions point out, DP World – a global logistics group – is backed by the emirate's royal ruling family.

Now there is horror on the island at the rude approach.

On Thursday there were turbulent scenes on some ships, as reported by the media.

P&O had sent cheaper foreign replacement crews before, but the fired seafarers refused to leave the ferries.

There were sit-ins.

However, P&O had hired security to clear the ships.

According to the Daily Mail, they were "thugs".

They wore balaclavas, some handcuffs - that's how the fired crew members were taken off the ferries.

British unions are raging.

"It turned our guts," lamented Mark Dickinson of the Nautilus union.

Some decades-long workers were thrown out in one fell swoop.

What happened was "the most disgraceful act in the history of British industrial relations," said the RMT Union of Railway, Seafarers and Transport Workers.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch spoke of "gangster capitalism" and "unscrupulous employers".

The union organized protest rallies in Dover, Hull and Liverpool on Friday.

Former Minister of Transport: Government should demand back Corona aid

Even the government was unaware of P&O Ferries' plans in advance.

"We were not informed of this beforehand," said a Downing Street spokesman.

Robert Courts, a Tory Minister for Maritime Transport, said in Parliament on Friday that he was "frankly very upset at the way workers have been treated".

This is totally unacceptable.

Labor spoke of a national scandal.

However, the opposition demanded “not just words, but deeds” from the government.

Former Conservative Minister for Transport Sir John Hayes hinted at what that could be on Friday.

The government should respond to the ferry company's "heartless" action by demanding the return of all public Corona aid funds.

P&O Ferries have received around £15million from aid programs in 2020, including short-time work benefits and loans.

One of the P&O directors, Peter Aylott, defended the mass layoffs on BBC Radio 4 on Friday. "Of course they had to do something." The decision secured the remaining 2,200 jobs at the company.

The pandemic is an external event that the company is not to blame for.

The ferry company is well known in Britain and has many millions of customers every year.

Before Corona, more than 10 million passengers used the ferries every year.

About 15 percent of the freight trucks coming in and out of the island are transported on P&O vessels.

When DP World bought the company in February 2019 for £322m ($350m at the time), DP Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem described P&O Ferries as a "strong brand".

Critics point out that P&O paid its owners a not exactly small dividend of 270 million pounds in 2020 – just before the pandemic largely brought business to a standstill and P&O laid off around 1,100 workers.