UK barge set to house asylum seekers raises fire safety concerns

The first group of people are due to be moved onto the Bibby Stockholm on Tuesday after management company announced no fire drills would be held on board

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge, which will house up to 500 asylum seekers. AP
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A three-storey barge set to house 500 asylum seekers could become a "floating Grenfell" due to serious fire safety concerns, it has been claimed.

The first group of asylum seekers are due to be moved onto the Bibby Stockholm, based in Dorset, on Tuesday, but the vessel has not yet received approval from local fire services.

One whistleblower in the local authority told The Times that checks last week had raised “serious” concerns, which could potentially lead to a fire similar to the one which destroyed the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London, killing 72 people in 2017.

The management company for the vessel told the newspaper it would not carry out fire drills over fears it may upset the people on board, who could have faced “traumatic situations” travelling to Britain.

The evacuation point, on the quayside, has been described as “completely inadequate” for 550 people by someone who has worked at the port. And there are concerns that it could lead to a crush because it is behind two sets of locked security gates, according to the report.

Graham Kewley, the fire safety manager at Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, provided “advice and comment” on issues to the Home Office and the vessel’s operators after last week’s inspections.

It comes after plans to move 2,000 asylum seekers into RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire were reportedly delayed until October, after delays in conducting surveys on the 14 buildings designated for their accommodation.

The Times also reported the Home Office will this week move more asylum seekers into accommodation at RAF Wethersfield in Essex.

The Bibby Stockholm accommodation barge arrives - in pictures

This decision was taken despite a small number of positive results for tuberculosis being detected at the former RAF site in Braintree.

A Home Office spokesperson 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."

Updated: July 31, 2023, 7:05 AM