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01 August 2023
The UK's first floating barge for asylum seekers was scheduled to receive its initial group of passengers on Tuesday, according to the Home Office. The Bibby Stockholm barge, which is located in Portland, Dorset, will eventually house 500 men at a time.
The Times reported on Monday that the ship's fire safety was a serious concern and that the fire service's approval was still pending.
One source told the paper of fears that the barge could become a “floating Grenfell”, about the West London tower block tragedy in 2017. A spokesman for Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) said it has provided “advice and comment” to the Home Office and the operators of the Bibby Stockholm and is prepared to “exercise our enforcement powers” if necessary once the barge is put into use.
Graham Kewley, manager of fire safety, stated that the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service "continues to liaise with partner agencies, the operator of the Bibby Stockholm, and the Home Office through the multi-agency forum and relevant subgroups.
"The responsible person, as defined in fire safety legislation, in conjunction with the Master of the vessel, shall be responsible for planning, implementing, and managing the safety of barge residents." We will conduct the necessary audits to verify that adequate general fire precautions are in place wherever any aspect falls under the purview of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.
“We have provided advice and comments about fire safety arrangements to both the Home Office and the vessel operators during our familiarisation and pre-occupation visits.
“The fire risk assessment is the appropriate mechanism for determining the planning, organisation, management, and control of fire safety measures, and responsibility rests with CTM (Corporate Travel Management) and Landry & Kling as the vessel operator, under their contract with the Home Office, to produce and keep this document under review.
We don't perform fire risk assessments or offer an approval procedure before a premises is occupied, but when necessary, we'll use our enforcement powers (either formal or informal) to deal with any significant areas of non-compliance.
"DWFRS should not go into further detail about the specific systems and emergency plans in place because they may jeopardise the safety of the ship and/or its passengers. This is consistent with how we handle other residential or commercial properties.
A spokesman for the Home Office stated: "Providing housing on surplus military sites and vessels will provide cheaper and more organised, suitable housing for those arriving in small boats.
"The Bibby Stockholm is currently undergoing final preparations to make sure it complies with all applicable laws before the first asylum seekers arrive in the upcoming 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.”
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