The Home Office was left holding the Bibby – the barge was their third choice

The Home Office was left holding the Bibby – the barge was their third choice

The Bibby Stockholm isn’t what anyone would choose – asylum-seekers would apparently rather kill themselves than go on board (or remain on board), and the local community doesn’t want it, either. It wasn’t even the Home Office’s first choice. Or second.

Industry sources have told One Life To Live that while the government was negotiating its first barge for asylum-seekers, they dithered and faffed for so long that two other barges, both of which were preferred options, slipped through their fingers. Finally, they had no choice but to settle for the Bibby Stockholm – elderly, rotten, expensive, and riddled with deadly Legionella.

She ain’t no lady

The Bibby Stockholm was built in 1976 – so it’s 47 years old, and feeling it. (I’m aware I’m supposed to refer to vessels as ‘she’ and ‘her’, but this raddled old hag is no lady).

Having squatted empty on the water for the past four years, it’s hardly surprising that the Bibby Stockholm’s hull was rotten and needed extensive repairs in dry dock. It wasn’t fire safe, and an additional gangway had to be fitted. The water system was harbouring the deadliest strain of Legionella, and the plumbing inspection also failed. The barge doesn’t even have its own on-board power, but relies on 3 diesel-fed generators on the quayside (the Bibby Stockholm is the size of an office block – who powers an office block with generators?). And the decision to use the barge, planning-permission-free, is now tied up in the High Court. You couldn’t make it all up.

And on top of everything else, the Bibby Stockholm costs more than hotels, per head per night. So the entire government strategy is now a laughing-stock. A leaked Home Office memo revealed that the barge would need to contain around 1,000 people to deliver ‘value for money’. The Bibby Stockholm, designed for 222 people, was to have a total of 546 asylum-seekers and staff jammed into its innards. Now it seems that number must drop to 425, a further blow to any hope of value for money – last seen sailing off into the sunset.

It could all have been so different

While I think the last place any asylum-seeker should be sent to live is on a barge on the water, the fact remains the Home Office hasn’t even been smart about being cruel.

The Bibby Renaissance (webpage and factsheet) had been under consideration. It houses 664 guests across 333 cabins, but the Home Office would almost certainly have increased this to four people per cabin. Built in 1991, it has on-board power – no need for those expensive, diesel-hungry generators.

The Bibby Progress (webpage and factsheet) was the second choice. At the time, it was designed to house 314 guests across 159 cabins, but with “flexible layouts” and “capacity for over 500 guests”. Perhaps the HO planned to double-up the occupancy, or achieve the target 1,000 beds across TWO barges. It is understood that the Bibby Progress has on-board power sources and would not require external generators.

Lost and now found: the missing barges

The transponders on both of these vessels have been switched off for a few months now, so you can’t use tracking websites to find out where they are. So I’ve been wondering who outsmarted the Home Office and chugged away with its barges. And I’ve just found out: an article in the Sunday Times, entitled Is the Netherlands full up with refugees?, revealed that “Before the end of the year another 1,000 will be accommodated on two “floating motels”, the Bibby Progress and Bibby Renaissance — sister ships of Britain’s controversial Bibby Stockholm.”

So there you have it. It was the Dutch all along, and the Home Office was left holding the Bibby.

It seems the government was unable to fulfil its own plan or negotiate successfully with the barges’ owners. Disorganised and indecisive, they dithered their way into settling for a extortionately expensive poisoned chalice. One which has done nothing to stop the boats or cut the hotel cost.

And since the Netherlands neatly allowed the Home Office to be hoist with its own petard, I owe every Dutch citizen a beer.