P&O Ferries has made 800 workers redundant and cancelled all of its sailings for the next few days.

The firm – which runs a service from Scotland to Northern Ireland – has been condemned by Scotland's First Minister for its "appalling" treatment of staff. 

Workers currently onboard ships were instructed by unions not to leave. Coaches carrying agency workers hired to replace the P&O staff are parked near ships at ports. 

There were reports that balaclava-clad security teams were sent on to ferries to remove the sacked staff.

The company, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, announced it has fired 800 seafarers as it is “not a viable business”.

Mark Dickinson, general secretary of maritime union Nautilus International, said: “The news that P&O Ferries is sacking the crew across its entire UK fleet is a betrayal of British workers.

“It is nothing short of scandalous given that this Dubai-owned company received millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money during the pandemic.”

Many P&O seafarers were furloughed during the coronavirus crisis, with the Government paying up to 80% of their wages.

P&O Ferries said in a statement: “In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business.

“We have made a £100 million loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable.

“Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”

It added that after “seriously considering all the available options” it has taken the “very difficult but necessary decision” to hand immediate severance notices to 800 seafarers.

Those fired will be compensated for the lack of notice with “enhanced compensation packages”.

Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would be seeking "urgent talks" with P&O.

She tweeted: "I’m deeply concerned at P&O announcement - due to the importance to Scotland of the Cairnryan/Larne route obviously, but also the impact on 100s of workers. Fire & rehire is an appalling practice & offends the basic principle of fair work."

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said his officials “will be having urgent discussions with P&O about the situation, particularly of concern for their workers”.

The company, which transports passengers and freight, operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

It began operating ferries in the 1960s and has 2200 employees remaining in the UK.

DP World was criticised for paying a £270 million dividend to shareholders at the end of April 2020 while P&O Ferries cut around 1100 jobs as demand for travel collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cruise line P&O Cruises is unaffected by the developments as it is a separate business owned by Carnival UK.