P&O Ferries' Pride of Kent, which sails across the Dover Straits to Calais, has been deemed fit to sail, after being inspected for the fourth time by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The ship's clean bill of health should allow P&O to increase capacity at Dover, with another vessel - the Spirit of Britain - passing a fortnight ago.

However P&O has announced it will only be offering a one vessel operation until 12 May.

The ferry company normally operates four ferries on the route. However the Pride of Canterbury and the Spirit of France, which operate on the Dover-Calais route, are still out of service and awaiting inspection.

A total of eight P&O ferries were detained by the MCA after P&O Ferries made the shock announcement it was axing almost 800 staff in March this year, as part of plans to replace their UK workforce with overseas agency workers earning an average of £5.50 per hour, which is less than the UK minimum wage.

P&O's strategy, which was roundly condemned by government and the unons at the time, raised safety concerns, triggering the inspections by the MCA.

International hauliers also hit out at P&O Ferries as they struggled to find alternative freight routes as the cross Channel ferry service was suspended.

P&O Ferries has accused the MCA of carrying out inspections with “an unprecedented level of rigour”. However the agency has insisted it worked “in exactly the same robust way” for every ship.

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So far the Pride of Hull (Hull-Rotterdam), Norway (Liverpool-Dublin), European Causeway and European Highlander (Cairnryan-Larne) have all been cleared to sail as well as the two Dover-based vessels.

A spokesman for MCA said: “The Pride of Kent has been released from detention and can commence operations when P&O Ferries are ready.

“There are no further inspections of P&O Ferries at the moment but we will reinspect when requested by P&O Ferries.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has called for P&O to do “three things to get out of this mess”. These are to sack P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite, pay at least the UK minimum wage to crew and repay £11m of furlough money.

“I don’t think it’s right that having claimed that money, they then sacked the workers in such a premeditated way,” Shapps told MPs recently.

So far P&O has has met none of these criteria.