P&O Ferries says it is to cut around 1,100 jobs to give the business a “viable and sustainable” future beyond the coronavirus crisis.
The company, which is owned by Dubai-based DP World, said the proposed redundancies would take place across all levels of the business.
The number of people affected represents over a quarter of its workforce.
The development follows the apparent failure of the company to secure a £150m bailout from the government as passenger numbers collapsed amid COVID-19 lockdowns in its operating markets.
P&O Ferries has five routes involving the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands – including Dover to Calais and Hull to Rotterdam.
It is understood only 15 of its 21 vessels are operating as P&O, the PA news agency reported, continues to seek government aid on securing critical supply routes.
A spokesman for P&O Ferries said: “Since the beginning of the crisis, P&O Ferries has been working with its stakeholders to address the impact of the loss of the passenger business.
“It is now clear that right-sizing the business is necessary to create a viable and sustainable P&O Ferries to get through Covid-19.
“Regrettably, therefore, due to the reduced number of vessels we are operating and the ongoing downturn in business, we are beginning consultation proceedings with a proposal to make around 1,100 of our colleagues redundant.”
The announcement adds to the jobs gloom that has so far hit airlines worst in the travel and freight markets as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair all cut staff.
Union criticism of the latest job losses is to be expected given DP World recently paid out a $330m (£267m) dividend to investors covering its last financial year.