P&O Ferries boss has expressed his regret for the “incredible” impact on hundreds of employees who were fired without notice.

Peter Hebblethwaite, however, insisted that the decision was “the only way we deemed possible”.

P&O Ferries laid off nearly 800 seafarers in March. They replaced them with workers from foreign agencies who were paid less than the minimum wage.

This caused outrage, prompting calls for Mr Hebblethwaite’s resignation.

P&O Ferries stated at the time that the decision would secure the future of their business.

When asked by the BBC how he would feel if he were fired in the same manner, Mr Hebblethwaite said that it was “not pleasant” to be made redundant.

“I am incredibly sorry. The decision we made had a significant impact on many of our ex-employees. He said, “And I do regret that.”

The boss of P&O Ferries insisted that the move was “the only route we deemed feasible for us to take” and part “a difficult decision, repositioning for the better future”.

P&O Ferries had previously made redundancies because of economic pressures caused the coronavirus pandemic. The business had consulted unions in the past, but chose not to do so when it fired hundreds more workers 10 weeks ago.

Hebblethwaite claimed that the decision to fire staff was not a race to bottom in terms of pay and standards. He said P&O had to modernize and be competitive.

He claimed that it had offered the largest redundancy package in maritime historical history.

When asked how he was able to ignore the legal requirement that staff be consulted in advance of redundancy and how the decision was made about how staff were to sacked, P&O Ferries boss refused to answer due to ongoing investigations by the insolvency services.

He refused to comment on whether flag status of P&O Ferries’ vessels meant that the company could circumvent UK workers’ rights.

Hebblethwaite was told that the decision had caused a massive reputational hit. However, he claimed that this was not what the P&O was experiencing and that they had “seen really encouraging book-ins.”

He was challenged about the pay levels and the fact that Dover-Calais seafarers were receiving far less than the UK National Minimum Wage. However, he stated that the wages of the company were in line with international standards. He also said that the crewing model was compatible with 80% global shipping.

He said that if the UK law were to be changed, in line with the government’s plans to pay seafarers who work in British ports the minimum wage and to make sure they are paid fairly, the company would “absolutely do what we are legally required to”.

Chief executive said that the company was working hard to return items to ex-workers, but acknowledged some possessions are still missing from ships left by sacked workers.