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

11 August 2023, 12:54 | Updated: 11 August 2023, 18:00

Migrants have been evacuated from the Bibby Stockholm after Legionella bacteria was found in the water
Migrants have been evacuated from the Bibby Stockholm after Legionella bacteria was found in the water. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Will Taylor

Asylum seekers aboard the Bibby Stockholm have been moved off after Legionella bacteria was detected in the water supply.

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Migrants and police were pictured on the walkway to the barge following the evacuation on Friday.

Everyone has been taken to new accommodation as a precaution.

The 39 migrants have only been on the barge, which is docked in Portland, this week.

The 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.

Read more: Life on board Bibby Stockholm: Migrants compare barge to Alcatraz while others say it is 'good'

Migrants were spotted on the barge walkway on Friday, the same day the evacuation was announced.
Migrants were spotted on the barge walkway on Friday, the same day the evacuation was announced. Picture: Getty
The Bibby Stockholm is being used to house migrants
The Bibby Stockholm is being used to house migrants. Picture: Alamy

Speaking to LBC’s Ben Kentish on Friday, the Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock said that the Bibby Stockholm barge was a “floating symbol of Tory incompetence and failure”. 

Continuing, MP Stephen Kinnock stated how Labour would “scrap the unworkable, unethical and unaffordable Rwanda plan” if elected, adding they would channel the funds into improving the National Crime Agency.

Mr Kinnock added that if elected as Prime Minister, Keir Starmer would show “respect” to the EU to secure a migrants return deal.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The health and welfare of individuals on the vessel is our utmost priority.

"Environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm have shown levels of legionella bacteria which require further investigation.

"Following these results, the Home Office has been working closely with UKHSA [UK Health Security Agency] and following its advice in line with long established public health processes, and ensuring all protocol from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team and Dorset NHS is adhered to.

Read more: Migrants who refuse to board Bibby Stockholm barge 'face losing government support'

"As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.

"No individuals on board have presented with symptoms of Legionnaires', and asylum seekers are being provided with appropriate advice and support.

Migrants have been removed from the Bibby Stockholm after Legionella was detected in the water supply
Migrants have been removed from the Bibby Stockholm after Legionella was detected in the water supply. Picture: Alamy

"The samples taken relate only to the water system on the vessel itself and therefore carry no direct risk indication for the wider community of Portland nor do they relate to fresh water entering the vessel. Legionnaires' disease does not spread from person to person."

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Ben Selby said: "The Fire Brigades Union warned the Home Secretary that forcibly holding migrants on this barge was a huge health and safety risk.

"We wrote to Suella Braverman more than a week ago to demand a meeting to discuss these issues. We have had no response that letter, and our fire safety and operational safety concerns remain.

"It remains our professional view that it's a potential death trap and an accident waiting to happen. However, Suella Braverman and her ministerial colleagues are hellbent on confining vulnerable people in jail-like conditions on what is effectively a prison ship.

"This outbreak of Legionella suggests that it's only a matter of time before either lives are lost or there is serious harm to a detainee."

A Dorset Council spokesperson said: "Dorset Council's environmental health team and Public Health Dorset are advising the Home Office and its contractors, alongside the UK Health Security Agency and NHS Dorset, following notification of positive samples of Legionella bacteria in the water system on the Bibby Stockholm barge.

"No individuals have presented symptoms of Legionnaires' disease, and there is no health risk to the wider community of Portland."

Tests at the entry point for water going onto the barge have shown no signs of the bacteria and it is believed it is coming from the pipes within the vessel.

Read more: 'I like it': First migrant to leave Bibby Stockholm gives verdict on what life is like on floating barge

Initially, the UKHSA recommended six migrants who boarded on Thursday be taken off, but it was decided to bring all 39 people off instead.

It comes just days after Tory minister Sarah Dines insisted to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "It is a safe place for people to live and stay.

First migrants arrive Bibby Stockholm asylum barge after minister assures LBC 'it is a safe place'

"It is a very complex situation. Let us just be clear that the Government is determined to use barges such as this one to make sure we have somewhere which is proper - rudimentary but proper - accommodation for migrants."

The water was tested before the migrants boarded but the results showing there was bacteria only came back after they moved in.

Another test has been carried out. If it comes back all clear, it is expected the migrants will move back.

They are being house on the barge as part of government plans to grapple with soaring levels of arrivals in the UK.

It is designed to be cheaper than paying for hotels across the country, which has proved controversial with some communities and even led to some being targeted by protesters.

James O'Brien reacts to migrant evacuation following Legionella discovery

But this alternative has also proved controversial.

Lawyers acting on behalf of refugee charity Care4Calais blocked the transfer of around 20 asylum seekers onto the Bibby Stockholm, which can hold up to 500 people.

They made legal representations to prevent the migrants who were due to be placed on the vessel on Monday having to get on board, claiming it was "inhumane" to house traumatised people on the barge.

But the Home Office told migrants that if they did not get on the bus, the government could halt its support for them.

The government also wants to convert ex-military sites so they can be used to house large numbers of migrants while their cases are processed.

Its plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda although the Supreme Court is yet to rule if the plan is lawful after a legal challenge halted it. Ministers hope this will help dissuade people from using illegal and unauthorised methods to get to the UK, such as on small boats in the Channel.

More than 100,000 people have now crossed the Channel since records began in 2018.