Just days after arriving on the Bibby Stockholm,, all 39 asylum seekers have been moved off the barge after the discovery of Legionella bacteria, as ITV News' Amy Lewis reports
All 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the Bibby Stockholm barge four days ago are being moved off after Legionella bacteria was found in the water.
Those on board the controversial barge in Portland, Dorset, will be taken elsewhere as a precautionary measure while further assessments are carried out.
There is not a wider risk to the public at this time.
It is understood the Home Office were advised yesterday evening to remove the six asylum seekers that had arrived on the vessel yesterday following the discovery.
But it is thought a decision was made to move all 39 people on board to contingency asylum accommodation as a temporary precaution.
The Home Office now faces mounting pressure to answer questions over the operation, with Conservative backbenchers accusing the government of “incompetence”.
Legionella bacteria can cause a serious type of lung infection known as Legionnaires' disease. None of those living on board the Bibby Stockholm are currently showing symptoms of the illness.
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 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.
“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.
“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.”
The disembarkment comes only four days after the first 15 asylum seekers boarded the barge.
Around 50 people were expected to move onboard the giant vessel, but around 20 were granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.
Charity Care4Calais said ministers “should now realise” that keeping refugees on barges was “untenable”.
Steve Smith, chief executive of Care4Calais, said: “We have always known our concerns over the health and safety of the barge are justified, and this latest mismanagement proves our point.
“The Bibby Stockholm is a visual illustration of this government’s hostile environment against refugees, but it has also fast become a symbol of the shambolic incompetence which has broken Britain’s asylum system.
“The government should now realise warehousing refugees in this manner is completely untenable, and should focus on the real job at hand — processing the asylum claims swiftly, so refugees may become contributing members of our communities as they so strongly wish.”
With a capacity of more than 500, the government hopes that the use of 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.
Tory MP Tim Loughton said the evacuation was an “embarrassment” and smacked of “incompetence”. He told the Telegraph: “This is deeply troubling and rapidly turning into a farce that the Home Office can ill afford.” Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has been urged by shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock to answer a series of questions about the “extremely troubling matter” of the evacuation. “This whole sorry affair is yet another shambolic example of the chaos, incompetence and confusion that have come to define the way in which this government is dealing with the asylum crisis that it has created,” the shadow minister wrote. “Why should the British public trust you to deal effectively with this mess when every measure you announce either fails to deliver, never gets off the ground, or just makes everything worse?” Mr Kinnock later tweeted: “Has anyone seen Suella Braverman?”
If inhaled, Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a type of severe pneumonia. It can grow in man-made water systems, particularly if the plumbing has not been used in months. Public health expert Professor Paul Hunter said the bacteria would have been an obvious risk to test for before moving people on to the barge. He said it was possible those on board could have been exposed to Legionella if they took a shower because this can generate a mist of the bacteria which can be inhaled, although the Home Office has said no one has fallen ill. “Certainly if we… had had a (hospital) ward that had not been open for a number of weeks and the water was still in the pipes, we would check that before we actually started moving patients into that ward, and this didn’t seem to happen. This is very concerning,” Prof Hunter told Today. The Home Office has been contacted for fresh comment but a spokesperson said on Friday: “The health and welfare of asylum seekers remains of the utmost priority. “The Home Office and our contractors are following all protocol and advice from Dorset Council’s Environmental Health team, UK Health Security Agency and Dorset NHS who we are working closely with.”
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