TWO Conservative ministers have mistakenly sent a strongly worded letter to a man they appeared to think was the current chair of P&O Ferries ... when he had actually resigned last year.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng sent separate letters to former P&O Ferries chair Robert Woods, expressing the UK Government’s anger at the situation.

Kwarteng said the company had “lost the trust of the public and has given business a bad name”, while Shapps said all Government contracts with P&O Ferries and its owner DP World would be reviewed and all the firm’s vessels would be subject to inspection by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency before they resumed sailing.

Kwarteng said the UK Government was angry and disappointed with P&O Ferries, calling the treatment of staff "appalling".

READ MORE: 'Shocked' CalMac issues statement of support to sacked P&O staff

The minister also warned the company that it has appeared to have failed in its legal duty to carry out consultation with unions and the Secretary of State.

Kwarteng said: "Failure to meet the notification obligation is a criminal offence and can lead to an unlimited fine. We note that in this case that P&O Ferries appears to have failed to follow this process."

But Woods resigned as chair of the company in December 2021.

After a Sky News journalist pointed out the mistake, the ministers deleted their tweets about the letters.

The Tories later sent letters to current CEO Peter Hebblethwaite.

It comes as protests were held across the UK against P&O Ferries after its “appalling” decision to sack 800 seafarers as the company issued a fresh defence of its decision.

Demonstrations were held at ports in Dover, Liverpool, Hull and Larne in Northern Ireland and outside the London head office of owners DP World amid growing anger at the sudden sacking of staff with no notice.

Attempts are being made to replace them with cheaper agency workers, but the company is facing a backlash, including calls for a boycott of its services.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, who joined the rally in Dover, described P&O’s actions as “nothing short of a national scandal”.

“This is a disgraceful way for a Dubai-based conglomerate to treat British workers in this country,” she told the PA news agency.

The National:

She added: “I will be taking action in Parliament next week to push the Government to take sanctions against P&O now, to push leverage on them, to force them to change course and if it’s not illegal… then we need to make sure it is immediately made so.”

In a new statement, P&O said: “We took this difficult decision as a last resort and only after full consideration of all other options but, ultimately, we concluded that the business wouldn’t survive without fundamentally changed crewing arrangements, which in turn would inevitably result in redundancies.

“We also took the view, in good faith, that reaching agreement on the way forward would be impossible and against this background, that the process itself would be highly disruptive, not just for the business but for UK trade and tourism.”

The company acknowledged that the sackings “came without warning or prior consultation, and we fully understand that this has caused distress for them and their families”.

The National:

The statement added: “The changes we’ve made bring us into line with standard industry practice.

“Our aim is to have the first of our services running again in the next day or two as we lose £1m a day for each day they are not moving.

“The teams escorting the seafarers off our vessels were totally professional in handling this difficult task with all appropriate sensitivity.

“Contrary to rumours, none of our people wore balaclavas nor were they directed to use handcuffs nor force.”

Around 400 protesters gathered outside the Port of Liverpool, including metro mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotheram and Sefton Central’s Labour MP Bill Esterson.

READ MORE: The P&O Ferries controversy, Brexit and 'fire and rehire', explained

Rotheram said: “It’s an absolute disgrace that in this day and age a company, just overnight, can say, ‘That’s the end of your job. That’s the end of your loyal service. You’re sacked and you’ve got no right to appeal’.”

Protesters held flags and signs, including one which said: “Shame on you!! P&O stop the carve up.”

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Labour’s Hull East MP Karl Turner addressed a protest at the ferry terminal in Hull.

Dismissed staff with decades of experience working for P&O attended a rally at Larne to voice disgust at their treatment.