There was more bad news for P&O Ferries on Tuesday afternoon as one of its ropaxes broke down off Northern Ireland.

The Dubai-owned operator, which sacked nearly 800 UK seafarers last month, said the 410-passenger European Causeway (built 2000) broke down off Larne with a mechanical issue.

The vessel, now crewed with cheaper agency staff, is about five miles offshore.

P&O said a full inspection will take place when the ship is back in port.

Tugs from Larne and Belfast have been deployed to guide it back, P&O tweeted.

An RNLI lifeboat has been launched and the BBC reported a cruise ship is also at the site, as well as a helicopter.

AIS data shows the vessel as not under command.

RMT union general secretary Mick Lynch added: “The reports of the European Causeway drifting in water off Larne having lost all power are deeply concerning, not least for the agency crew and passengers on board.

Government needs to intervene

“Since our members were viciously sacked on 17 March, this vessel has been detained by the MCA for failing a raft of safety checks,” he said.

Lynch went on to say: “The list of offences is now as long as your arm and the government has to step in and protect ferry safety and jobs.”

P&O has said the sackings were needed to halt financial losses.

The vessel was detained after failing a port state control safety inspection earlier in March.

Deficiencies found

Inspectors found the launching arrangements for survival craft were not as required.

An inflatable evacuation slide not properly maintained and there were inadequate fire prevention systems and the crew was not familiar with radio equipment.

There were also problems with labour conditions, navigation and documentation.

Two other P&O ships remain under detention in Dover.

Seven agency workers were sacked earlier in April after boarding a P&O ferry while over the legal alcohol limit.