Government to hire more migrant barges despite growing backlash against Legionella-hit Bibby Stockholm

12 August 2023, 22:41 | Updated: 12 August 2023, 23:00

There are plans to hire out more migrant barges
There are plans to hire out more migrant barges. Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The Government plans to hire more floating barges to house asylum seekers despite a growing backlash against the Bibby Stockholm.

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The policy to house illegal migrants on the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, has come under fresh scrutiny after Legionnella bacteria was found in the water supply.

Conservative backbenchers have accused the Home Office of "incompetence" after the 39 people who had boarded the vessel were transferred to alternative accommodation on Friday evening.

But there remains plans to expand the Government's fleet of floating migrant barges, as well as office and student accommodation blocks, The Telegraph reports.

Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires' disease, a lung infection that causes flu-like symptoms, coughs, chest pain and shortness of breath.

In extreme cases, it can lead to people coughing up blood.

None of the people on board have shown any symptoms yet, but they have used the water supply.

Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset, where asylum seekers are being removed due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply
Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset, where asylum seekers are being removed due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply. Picture: Alamy
Home Secretary Suella Braverman
Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Picture: Getty

It comes after six migrants died while crossing the English Channel in the early hours of Saturday morning.

All six migrants were Afghan men, French authorities said.

More than 50 people were rescued from the ship that was crossing the channel, including children.

A patrol boat told authorities that a migrant boat was sinking off the French town of Sangatte at around 4am on Saturday, France's Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said.

Local mayor Franck Dhersin said dozens of boats were trying to make the crossing at the same time.

Read More: Asylum seeker torture survivor says legionella-hit Bibby Stockholm reminds him of unsanitary ‘refugee camp’

Read More: Migrants moved off Bibby Stockholm just days after boarding as Legionella bacteria found in the water

It comes amid a growing backlash against the Government's floating barge policy as it tries to fulfil Rishi Sunak's pledge to 'Stop the Boats' - on both sides of the house.

Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock wrote to his opposite number on Saturday asking what the Home Office knew about the risk of the bacteria being present before moving migrants onto the barge.

The department said all 39 of those on board had been disembarked as a "precautionary measure" after samples from the water system showed levels of Legionella requiring further investigation.

The Home Office said no migrants have fallen sick or developed Legionnaires' disease, which is a serious type of pneumonia, and that they are all being provided with "appropriate advice and support".

Department officials are understood to have been told by Dorset Council on Wednesday evening about the discovery of initial results indicating that the bacteria was present, but the transfer of a further six migrants on to the barge still went ahead on Thursday.

Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset
Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge at Portland Port in Dorset. Picture: Alamy

Government sources said the UK Health Security Agency then told ministers on Thursday that Legionella had been found in the vessel's water system and advised them that they needed to remove those six migrants.

With a capacity of more than 500, the Government hopes that the use of the Bibby Stockholm will help cut the £6 million a day currently being spent on hotel bills for asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their applications.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the barge would not serve as a "solution" to the backlog even without the presence of the bacteria.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "The primary thing that's been revealed has been the startling incompetence of the Home Office itself... It's really, really hard to understand how, at all layers, this could not be caught early".

The senior Conservative MP suggested the problems could be related to "management" of the department rather than "ministerial" issues specifically, but added: "Even working properly, the Bibby barge would only take effectively one day's arrivals.

"So it's not a solution to the problem and all of this is going to go on until the Home Office is able to process these arrivals more quickly."

Tim Loughton said the evacuation was an "embarrassment" and smacked of "incompetence," coming at the end of a week in which the Government had planned a series of announcements aimed at promoting its immigration approach.

The Tory MP told the Telegraph: "This is deeply troubling and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford."