Port of Liverpool owner Peel Ports is refusing to let P&O vessel Norbay depart the Mersey to carry freight to Ireland until the bill is paid. Tony McDonough reports
A daily freight service between the Port of Liverpool and Dublin has ground to a halt in a dispute over a £600,000 bill.
Port owner Peel Ports is refusing to let the P&O vessel Norbay, which along with sister vessel Norbank operates a daily service across the Irish Sea, leave the Mersey until the bill is settled. Another operator, Seatruck, also operates on the same route.
P&O Ferries says it has asked all the ports it operates from for flexibility over payments as it grapples with the economic shock caused by the coronavirus crisis. Peel has said it only detains vessels as a “last resort” and only when there was a “significant debt to repay”.
Despite heavy demand for goods from supermarkets during the COVID-19 lockdown the maritime sector has still seen a drop in demand for freight services. Last week Birkenhead to Belfast ferry operator Stena Line said it was having to lay off or furlough hundreds of staff from its route network.
Norbay carries freight, including food and medical supplies, to Dublin every day with some of the cargo also destined for Northern Ireland. In a statement P&O said: “We have been in open discussions since this crisis began with all of our ports and network to ensure that we can manage payments while everyone deals with this unprecedented situation.
The company branded Peel’s action’s “irresponsible and unnecessary” at a “time of national crisis” and said the decision had closed an essential supply route. It added: “We had asked for flexibility in the time required to pay but the Liverpool port refused to respond, even though we were committing to full payment.”
In response Peel Ports 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 and 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.
“Other ferry services from Liverpool to both Dublin and Belfast continue to operate, with multiple departures per day and spare capacity.”