A DRAMATIC decline in coach business and competition from low-cost carriers has forced P&O Ferries to consider axeing one of its passenger ships with the loss of more than 600 jobs.

The company announced last week it is proposing to switch one of its seven Dover to Calais passenger ships to a freight service from January 1.

Around 525 jobs could be lost from its seafaring operations, while 96 shore employees face the axe. There are currently around 4,200 Dover-based staff.

A spokesman said the restructure – currently within a 90-day consultation period – would have “no implications” for the agents or operators it works with. The ferry operator pays a minimum of 7% commission to agents.

He said the company had been forced to take action due to a drop in passenger levels. In the year to the end of September, the Dover to Calais route carried 7.49 million passengers compared to 8.44 million for the equivalent period in 2002.

Coach business slumped by 800,000 passengers to September which affected on-board revenue. “That’s what’s hurting us,” he said.

Business dropped due to coach operators switching continental traffic to the domestic market. The move means its daily sailings will be reduced to 30 from 35. It is also planning a “significantly discounted” no-frills, night-time service to compete with low-cost carriers with reduced on-board services. If it goes ahead, the service will operate from March 1.

Meanwhile, P&O Ferries has announced plans for a new high-speed Portsmouth to Caen service which will run next summer with capacity for 800 passengers.


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