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Finding docks for more migrant barges will be difficult after Bibby Stockholm ‘circus’, says port industry

Ministers have been warned they could face difficulties in finding ports for new migrant barges following the “circus” that saw the Bibby Stockholm evacuated within days of being opened.

An industry source said port operators had seen the “grief” generated by the vessel in Portland Port, Dorset, and were concerned about the impact on their reputation if they accepted a similar barge to be berthed.

All 39 asylum seekers were pulled off Bibby Stockholm on Friday due to the discovery of potentially deadly Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

It also follows the suspected deaths of six asylum seekers and the rescue of at least 58 – many of them Afghans – when their vessel got into difficulty off the coast of France on Saturday, marking a disastrous end to the Government’s “small boats week“.

Ministers are nevertheless believed to be pushing ahead with plans to hire more barges, as well as office and student accommodation blocks, to house 5,000 more asylum seekers as part of their bid to deter Channel crossings and end the housing of migrants in hotels, which is costing taxpayers £6m a day.

It is thought ports similar in size and operation to Portland would be the most likely to consider the idea of hosting barges, and while some larger venues may also be in the running, they may not want to risk their reputation.

An industry source said: “I think ports will be looking at the circus around Portland and deciding they wouldn’t want to take on a migrant barge. Portland is getting a lot of grief. There will be plenty of other ports looking at that and thinking, ‘Is it worth it?’

“Every company has its own character. Some of them might now be thinking more about the impact of a migrant boat on their business.

“Some of the bigger ports also often handle cruise liners and passenger ferries. The cruise industry may well be sensitive to this matter.”

Conservative MP Tim Loughton, a member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, called on the Home Office to draft in the military to ensure the barges are better operated.

It came after officials at the department were only informed of the Legionella test results by Dorset Council on Wednesday last week despite reports the bacteria was first detected last Monday.

Mr Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, told Times Radio: “Some of the more successful things that the Home Office have done is working jointly with the military, bringing in the military for running Manston, for example, where we had the problems last year.

“Could the military be brought in to oversee the Bibby Stockholm and other similar accommodation that we’re going to have to use as well?”

The Welsh Secretary, David TC Davies, appeared yesterday to confirm a Sunday Telegraph report that the Government was looking at hiring more barges.

He told Times Radio: “It’s quite possible because we will do whatever we can to ensure the people are safely, adequately housed, but also to try and ensure best value for the taxpayer.

“Obviously we’ve got no problem in principle with hiring barges or using former military accommodation.”

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