P&O Ferries was plunged into a new crisis last night after its vessel the Pride of Kent failed a safety inspection for a second time.
The latest blow means that the operator will be unable to resume services between Dover and Calais before Easter, as it had hoped.
Another of its ships, the Spirit of Britain, was detained on Tuesday after inspectors found serious deficiencies on board. Both ships will need to rectify the problems and undergo a further inspection before they can sail.
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “The Pride of Kent will remain detained following the reinspection of the ferry, which found a number of additional deficiencies, including in safety systems and crew documentation.”
The agency said that the ferry company, which sacked 800 workers without notice last month, had not instructed any further inspections this week. P&O Ferries has replaced the sacked British sailors with overseas workers, to be paid an average of £5.50 an hour.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has ordered that all P&O ships undergo a full Port State Control inspection before they sail.
Shapps warned people travelling this weekend that the transport network would be “extremely busy”, with delays on the roads, at ports and at airports.
He told the BBC: “I think certainly this weekend will be extremely busy on our roads, potentially at our ports, of course, particularly at Dover, where P&O disgracefully sacked all of their staff and then attempted to run ships which wouldn’t have been safe with the replacement below- minimum wage staff they tried to hire quickly.”
A spokesman for P&O Ferries said: “We take the safety of our passengers and crew very seriously and look forward to all of our ships welcoming tourist passengers and freight customers again as soon as all mandatory safety tests have been passed.”
There were also delays for HGVs using the Port of Dover yesterday, with queues returning to the M20, which is under the “Operation Brock” contraflow system. The motorway remains closed to coastbound non-freight vehicles, which must exit the motorway and use the A20 instead.