Bibby Stockholm: 'Fire safety concerns' over migrant barge

The Bibby Stockholm barge will eventually host about 500 men at a time. Credit: PA Images

Plans to house thousands of migrants in new and cheaper accommodation could face fresh setbacks, after reports that the Bibby Stockholm barge has not received approval from local fire services.

The Home Office had been expecting to send an initial group of people to the UK’s first floating barge for asylum seekers on Tuesday.

The vessel, known as the Bibby Stockholm barge, is in Portland, Dorset, and will eventually host about 500 men at a time.

The Times on Monday reported serious fire safety concerns about the vessel, with fire service approval pending.

One source told the paper of fears that the barge could become a “floating Grenfell”, in reference to the west London tower block tragedy in 2017.

A spokesman for Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) said it has provided “advice and comment” to the Home Office and the operators of the Bibby Stockholm and is prepared to “exercise our enforcement powers” if necessary once the barge is put into use.

Fire safety manager Graham Kewley said: “Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service continues to liaise with partner agencies, the Bibby Stockholm’s operator and the Home Office through the multi-agency forum and relevant subgroups.

“Responsibility for planning, implementing and managing the safety of barge residents rests with the responsible person, as defined in fire safety legislation, in conjunction with the Master of the vessel.

“Where any aspect falls within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, we will be undertaking appropriate audits to confirm that adequate general fire precautions are in place.

The majority of bedrooms will house two men. Credit: PA

“We have provided advice and comment in relation to fire safety arrangements to both the Home Office and the vessels operators during our familiarisation and pre-occupation visits.

“The fire risk assessment is the appropriate mechanism for determining the planning, organisation, management and control of fire safety measures, and responsibility rests with CTM (Corporate Travel Management) and Landry & Kling as the vessel operator – under their contract with the Home Office – to produce and keep this document under review.

“We do not conduct fire risk assessments or provide an approval process prior to occupation of a premises but will exercise our enforcement powers (either formal or informal) to address any significant areas of non-compliance where necessary.

The Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, will house up to 500 men Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

“It would be inappropriate for DWFRS to provide further detail on the specific systems and emergency plans in place, as these could impact upon the safety of the vessel and/or its occupants. This aligns with our approach to any other commercial or residential premises.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Delivering accommodation on surplus military sites and vessels will provide cheaper and more orderly, suitable accommodation for those arriving in small boats.

“The Bibby Stockholm is now undergoing final preparations to ensure it complies with all appropriate regulations before the arrival of the first asylum seekers in the coming weeks.

“In addition, the Home Office is working with stakeholders on a carefully structured plan to increase the number of asylum seekers at Wethersfield in a phased approach.”