Asylum seekers leave Bibby Stockholm amid fears over bacteria


Asylum seekers leave Bibby Stockholm amid fears over bacteria

Asylum seekers have been removed from the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset after Legionella bacteria was found in the vessel’s water system.

It is not clear where they are being moved to but the Home Office said all 39 migrants on board would be disembarked on Friday as a “precautionary measure”.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick is understood to be chairing meetings about the situation.

Legionella bacteria, which is commonly found in water, can cause a serious type of lung infection known as Legionnaires’ disease.

None of those on the barge have shown signs of having the disease and are all being provided with “appropriate advice and support”, said the Home Office.

Asylum seekers leave Bibby Stockholm amid fears over bacteria

The Bibby Stockholm is one of the new forms of asylum seeker accommodation the government is using to cut the costs of hotels.

Ministers are facing questions about when the tests were carried out and who knew what and when.

Bibby Stockholm fiasco shows how far Rishi Sunak has to go to deliver on boats promise

Sky News understands routine testing of the water supply was initially carried out on Tuesday 25 July but the results did not come back until Monday 7 August, the same day asylum seekers began to board the Bibby Stockholm, which is docked in Portland Port.

However the Home Office was not made aware of the results until two days later on Wednesday 9 August.

The government said it was only yesterday – Thursday 10 August – that it was advised by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to remove people on board, and then only the six individuals who embarked that day.

The decision was taken to remove all 39 individuals as a “further temporary precaution” on Friday.

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said it was “extraordinary” that it appeared proper checks hadn’t taken place before migrants were moved on board.

‘Utter shambles’

He told Sky News: “It’s absolutely right that the barge has to be evacuated but what a complete and utter shambles. This is a catalogue of catastrophe and government ministers should hang their heads in shame.”

Asylum seekers leave Bibby Stockholm amid fears over bacteria

He suggested the government had “rushed” to try to get everybody on to the barge quickly “because the whole thing was becoming such public relations disaster for them” after the opening of the vessel was beset by a number of delays.

“It’s once again an example of Tory ministers putting their own interests ahead of the interests both of the community there and of the people that they’re putting onto the barge.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the health and welfare of those on board the vessel “is our utmost priority”.

They confirmed environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm “have shown levels of legionella bacteria which require further investigation”.

The government department added the bacteria samples relate “only to the water system on the vessel itself” and not fresh water entering the barge.

‘No health risk to wider community’

It stressed there is no health risk to the wider community of Portland and that the disease “does not spread from person to person”.

The Home Office said it was working with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Dorset council’s environmental health team and Dorset NHS.

What is Legionnaires' disease?

Asylum seekers leave Bibby Stockholm amid fears over bacteria

Niamh Lynch

Sky News reporter


Caused by the bacteria legionella – found in the water on the Bibby Stockholm – Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection that is uncommon but can have serious consequences.

The disease is contracted by breathing in tiny droplets of water containing the bacteria.

It is usually found in places like hotels, offices and hospitals where the bacteria has entered the water supply.

Air conditioning systems, humidifiers and pools or hot tubs are common places where people contract Legionnaires’ disease. People are far less likely to contract the disease by drinking water or in their homes.

The symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, high temperatures, chest pain and flu-like symptoms.

Pharmacist Thorrun Govind told Sky News that people usually contract Legionnaires’ disease in places where taps are used irregularly and the bacteria is allowed to build up.

“If you think about water tanks, where things are being held for ages and you’ve got taps and showers that aren’t being used that often, that means that those bacteria levels can increase.”

She said prevention is key to avoiding Legionnaires’ disease, adding: “As a place which is somewhere people are being housed, we’re unsure of how much use this barge has got – that’s the risk there. It’s a good thing they are looking into this more seriously.

“We’ve got to think about the risks to long-term health. People who may be staying on these barges may be in a vulnerable position and there are people who are more at risk of Legionnaires’, such as over-50s and those with immuno-compromised conditions.”

With a capacity of more than 500, the government hopes using the Bibby Stockholm, together with former military bases, will help reduce the £6m a day it is spending on hotel bills for asylum seekers waiting for claims to be processed.

The first 15 asylum seekers boarded the barge on Monday and a small number also arrived on Tuesday.

However several refused to board the vessel amid warnings from the Home Office that they would face having government support removed.

On Wednesday, Mr Jenrick described the barge as “perfectly decent accommodation” that was similar to that used by British oil and gas workers.

When was Legionella bacteria found on the Bibby Stockholm?

9 May: Bibby Stockholm arrives in UK waters

7 August: First 15 asylum seekers board the barge after weeks of delays. Sky News understands the test results on the water came back the same day

10 August: UKHSA advises the Home Office to remove the six asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel on Thursday. A Home Office source says this is when final tests results were received

11 August: Home Office announces, as a precaution, that all migrants are being removed from vessel.

But speaking to Sky News, Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, disputed Mr Jenrick’s comparison.

Asked how common it was for the bacteria to be present, Dr Pankhania said: “They should not be present in a place like that and when Robert Jenrick says we house oil workers on similar barges, he is definitely not comparing like with like.

“When you accommodate oil workers…there wouldn’t be 500. And when you have a large number of people accommodated you need better plumbing systems so the water temperature is maintained at the right temperature.”

Dr Pankhania said the disease would most likely have spread through the showers used on the vessel.

He said those most likely to be negatively affected were older people, smokers, and those who are immune suppressed.

Campaigners were also quick to hit out at the government over the development.

The charity Care4Calais, which represents asylum seekers, said the bacteria discovery shows its concerns over the barge are “justified”, adding: “The Bibby Stockholm is a visual illustration of this government’s hostile environment against refugees, but it has also fast become a symbol for the shambolic incompetence which has broken Britain’s asylum system.”

The campaign group No to the Barge said the news was “another example of the haphazard, incompetent way our government has approached this scheme from start to finish” and called on Mr Jenrick to stand down.

Asylum seekers leave Bibby Stockholm amid fears over bacteria

The discovery of Legionella on board the Bibby Stockholm is the latest embarrassing setback in a plan beset with controversy and delay from the very start.

The barge faced considerable opposition due to concern about asylum seekers’ welfare and the impact on local services, while the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) warned the vessel is a potential “death trap” – an assessment they have stood by today.

The government argues the Bibby Stockholm and its other new accommodation sites will act as a vital deterrent to small boat crossings.

But in a further blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the number of people who have crossed the English Channel in small boats in the past five years has now passed 100,000.

The latest Home Office figures showed 755 migrants were detected in the Channel on Thursday, the highest daily figure so far this year.

However, the total number of small boat arrivals so far this year is around 15% below the equivalent number at this point last year.


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