The Bibby Stockholm is to reopen to asylum seekers after receiving the all clear from legionella bacteria following an evacuation of the vessel last month.
The migrant barge moored at Portland Docks, Dorset, was evacuated within days of opening when traces of the bacteria were found in the water system.
Some 500 asylum seekers will eventually be housed on the barge, which has now provided a ‘satisfactory’ water sample, according to Dorset Council data.
Despite samples being considered ‘satisfactory, the most recent results from 4 September still identified the bacteria in two samples.
The Home Office said: “We are pleased to confirm that the latest tests have shown that there are no health risks from legionella on the Bibby Stockholm, with individuals set to return to the barge in due course.
“The welfare of asylum seekers is of paramount importance. It is right we went above and beyond UK Health Security Agency advice and disembarked asylum seekers as a precautionary measure whilst the issue was investigated.”
Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease if a person breathes in droplets of infected water. It’s usually caught in places like hotels, hospitals or offices where the bacteria have got into the water supply.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include a cough, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms and chest pain.
Previous test results on the barge from 9 August show eight out of 11 samples were unsatisfactory and three were deemed borderline. Some bacteria found was legionella pneumophila serogroup 1, the deadliest strain.
The 39 asylum seekers housed at the time were evacuated after just four and a half days on board the controversial accomodation.
It was in April when the government confirmed plans to house asylum seekers on Bibby Stockholm in a bid to save money on housing the migrants in hotels, which was costing more than £6m a day, the Home Office said. The vessel was among several “alternative sites”, including disused military bases and a former prison.
Aside from concerns about legionella bacteria, issues regarding planning, fire safety and plumbing breaches have been reported.
And on 8 September, Mayor of Portland Carralyn Parkes launched a legal challenge as a private individual against the Home Office. She says it must declare the use of the barge as a ‘development’ under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 - thereby meaning it needs a planning application.
On the likely imminent return of asylum seekers, the Portland Town Councillor told The Independent last week she was ‘shocked the Home Office look to continue with this crazy project’.
She added: “It has been a disaster from start to finish - it’s supposed to save money but it is clearly doing anything but.
“It is cruel and degrading to treat human beings like this - to open the barge initially before making it safe, and now continuing with this plan to house them in small and overcrowded conditions is simply horrifying.”
The Home Office has until October 4 to respond to her legal challenge and a judge will decide if it can progress to a judicial review.