The discovery of Legionella on board the Bibby Stockholm is the latest embarrassing setback in a plan beset with controversy and delay from the very start.
Thankfully, no one on board has developed any symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially serious form of pneumonia spread by infected water droplets.
The Home Office insist the 39 people currently on board are being disembarked as a mere “precautionary measure” while further tests are undertaken.
But the timeline of this apparently routine water-testing process – and who in government knew what when – is far from clear.
Sky News understands the initial tests were carried out on Tuesday 25 July. The results came back nearly a fortnight later – on Monday 7 August, the very day the first 15 asylum seekers moved in at the start of this week.
But the Home Office say it was only yesterday – Thursday 10 August – that they were advised by the UK Health Security Agency to remove those on board, and then only the six individuals who boarded the barge yesterday. As a “further temporary precaution”, the decision was taken to remove all 39 individuals on board, which is happening today.
A Home Office source insists the “final tests” only came back to them yesterday, but that they have been working closely with the UKHSA and following its advice. The reasons for the delay in responding to the initial test results however are as yet unclear.
Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock has described the Bibby Stockholm as a “floating symbol of the government’s incompetence” and a “complete and utter shambles”.
Certainly the delivery of the plan to house 500 people on barge accommodation has been riven with problems from the beginning.
Local people have always objected to the location. Dorset MP Chris Loder has repeatedly raised concerns over overcrowding, with the Bibby Stockholm set to house double the number of people it was initially designed to accommodate.
The Mayor of Portland, Carralyn Parkes, who was previously a Labour parliamentary candidate, is bringing legal action over claims the Home Office didn’t get the necessary planning permission for the barge.
The initial arrival of migrants on board was delayed by health and safety checks – with the Fire Brigades Union describing the vessel as a “potential death trap”.
Then out of the 50 finally set to board this Monday, only 15 initially did so, with 20 being removed from the list amid legal challenges.
While a handful more have clearly been arriving throughout the week, it’s clearly going to take time for the vessel to reach the full 500 target – clearly delayed even longer now all those already on board have been evacuated.
The Home Office insists the use of barges to house asylum seekers is a “tried and tested approach” which offers “better value for the British taxpayers” than the £6m daily cost of housing some 50,000 asylum seekers stuck on the backlog in hotels.
The use of more basic accommodation – from barges to disused military barracks – is a key plank of the government’s attempt to deter migrants from crossing the Channel in small boats in the first place. The ultimate deterrent – deporting people to Rwanda – is currently on hold, pending a final decision from the Supreme Court.
This week was meant to be the government’s “small boats week” – showcasing a series of announcements to highlight its tough policies on immigration.
But the latest fiasco on board the Bibby Stockholm is yet another indication of how far the prime minister has to go to deliver on his promise to stop the small boats.