Competition from budget operators causes decline in P&O Ferries’ market dominance

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P&O Ferries, a UK shipping group owned by Dubai-based DP World, has lost significant ground in the UK freight market since its acquisition in 2019, according to analysis by shipping consultancy MDS Transmodal. The company’s share of cargo capacity between Kent and northern France has dropped from two-thirds to 34% since the takeover, while its share of capacity for North Sea trade and trade between Great Britain and Ireland has also decreased. P&O recently closed its Liverpool to Dublin service after its port operator decided not to renew the contract.

MDS Transmodal Chair Mike Garratt commented that P&O is “no longer a major player in European ferry trade” and questioned the company’s future prospects. The analysis shows that P&O has faced increasing competition from low-cost operators such as Irish Ferries, which now accounts for up to 23% of shipping capacity on the short straits. Unions have criticized P&O for undermining working standards and warned of a “race to the bottom” in the UK maritime sector.

P&O defended its business performance, stating that it is “better matching capacity to demand” to trade more efficiently than its rivals. The company highlighted that it remains the leader for trade between Dover and Calais, delivering up to 46% of freight volumes so far this year. However, this is down significantly from 67% in 2019. P&O’s profitability has also been impacted by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, with losses before tax more than tripling in 2021. Last year, the company faced public outcry after sacking around 800 crew members, admitting that it had broken UK employment law.

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