Hundreds of British maritime jobs could be at risk as part of plans by shipping giant Maersk to cut costs in the face of sluggish global demand.

Maersk Supply Service, the shipping giant’s division servicing the oil and gas sector, announced on Thursday it would cut 20 vessels from its fleet of 56 over the next 18 months, resulting in 400 job losses.
About 200 British workers hold offshore jobs with Maersk Supply Service, according to a firm representative.

The company said cuts were necessary amid limited trading opportunities and poor global demand for offshore supply ships.

“We are facing unprecedented market conditions and regrettably we have to further adjust our crew pool. It is an unfortunate but necessary step to safeguard the future of our company,” Jorn Madsen, chief executive of Maersk Supply Service, said.

The shipping industry, as a whole, is seen as an indicator of global growth and has been suffering a sharp slowdown.

Parent company Maersk last week reported an 89% drop in profit in the second quarter and warned it continues to expect significantly lower full-year results.

Representatives of the RMT union said they were “bitterly disappointed” by the news.

“Maersk’s announcement that it intends to get rid of more than a third of its fleet represents another bitter blow to an industry already decimated by too many job losses in the last 18 months,” RMT national secretary Steve Todd said.

“The industry appears to be in freefall with no government intervention to stop it or save it. This is going to lead to yet more job losses for British seafarers.”

The union is hoping to clinch an early meeting with Maersk Supply Service in an effort to save as many jobs as possible.

Maersk Supply Service plans to get rid of at least 10 ships by the end of the year, most of which will be sold or recycled.

The company stressed the redundancies will cover all nationalities, with cuts finalised by September.