sylum seekers have been evacuated from the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset just days after arriving following a detection of Legionella bacteria.
All 39 on board have been taken off the barge after the Home Office said environmental samples revealed levels of legionella bacteria in the barge’s water system.
The samples “require further investigation”, the Home Office said, and under advice from health authorities, all people on board were disembarked as a “precautionary measure”.
Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of lung infection.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was reportedly chairing meetings about the situation. The Home Office said no-one on board was showing signs of having the disease. It cannot be spread from person to person.
The Legionella detection only relates to the water system onboard the vessel itself, the Home Office said, and is not a risk to the wider community of Portland or related to fresh water entering the vessel.
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.”
Fifteen people were moved onto the vessel docked in Portland Port, which has capacity for 500, on Monday after a string of delays.
Around 50 people were expected to move onboard but around 20 were granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.
In a series of legal letters to the Home Office, solicitors raised concerns about the suitability of the accommodation for people with disabilities, mental and physical health problems as well as those who had fled torture and persecution, according to refugee charity Care4Calais .
Asylum seekers placed in UK hotels began receiving letters telling them they would be moved to the Bibby Stockholm at the end of July.
Most of the 222 bedrooms onboard the barge have twin bunk beds but there are also 20 larger rooms which would sleep four people, and two rooms housing six people.
Steve Smith, chief executive of charity 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 for the shambolic incompetence which has broken Britain’s asylum system.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Across the country, most people want strong border security and a properly managed and controlled asylum system so the UK does its bit alongside other countries to help those who have fled persecution and conflict, while those who have no right to be here are swiftly returned.
“Under this Government, we have neither as gangs are undermining our border security and the asylum system is in chaos.”
It comes as 755 people were recorded crossing the English Channel in small boats on Thursday, the highest daily number so far this year, confirming the cumulative total since 2018 has passed 100,000.
Since current records began on January 1 2018, 100,715 migrants have arrived in the UK after making the journey, according to analysis of Government data by the PA news agency.
The numbers were recorded as a major search and rescue operation was launched after 17 migrants went overboard and were pulled from the water. The Home Office said they were all taken ashore for medical checks.
Meanwhile, Border Force reportedly suffered a double blow as one of its cutters broke down in the early hours of the morning and a £400,000 drone used to monitor activity in the Channel crashed into the sea.