Home Office contractors have been informed of traces of Legionella bacteria found on the ‘Bibby Stockholm’ barge on the same day that asylum seekers were brought onto the ship, Dorset City Council has said.
The discovery eventually led to Friday’s evacuation of all 39 people who landed on board the floating Portland accommodation on Monday.
The council now said it informed the “responsible organisations”, inland shipping operators CTM and Landry & Kling, of the preliminary test results on Monday, the same day it received them.
An Home Office official was then briefed on the discovery on Tuesday, the council said, but government sources said ministers only learned of the bacteria’s presence on Thursday.
A spokesman said: “To be clear, it was not the responsibility of Dorset Council to inform the Home Office – that responsibility lay with CTM and Landry & King, the companies hired by the Home Office to operate the barge.”
The Home Office did not comment on the statement, which was first reported The Telegraph. CTM and Landry & Kling have also been contacted for comment.
Concerns about potential health risks were brought to the attention of Britain’s Health and Safety Agency (UKHSA) on Wednesday evening and advice was sought from the council.
The full timeline remains unclear and the council has not yet said whether it notified contractors before or after the migrants were transferred onto the barge.
It said Immigration Secretary Robert Jenrick had told operators they needed to be more transparent going forward.
This comes after another 509 people crossed the English Channel in 10 boats on Saturday, with one trip killing six when a ship sank off the coast of France.
A Cabinet minister on Sunday defended the government’s immigration strategy amid renewed pressure, including from Tory MPs, over its promise to “stop the boats” following the deadly incident.
At least six people died and at least 58 – many Afghans – were rescued after a boat ran into trouble off the coast of Sangatte on Saturday.
According to survivors, about 65 people originally boarded the overloaded ship before a passing ship saw it sink and sounded the alarm at around 4.20am.
Welsh Minister David TC Davis admitted crossings “would continue to be a problem” but insisted some boats would be stopped. “We stopped a lot,” he said Sky news.
Rishi Sunak has made managing the border crossings one of his leadership’s top five priorities and asked people to judge him on his handling of the problem.
It comes as The Telegraph quoted a government memo written for top Home Office officials as saying the refugee crisis is expected to last for up to five years.
In the internal document, the Home Office reportedly plans to use disused RAF bases and a prison to house migrants for three to five years.
The government has been accused of allowing its ‘small boat week’ and associated immigration announcements to become a mockery following the evacuation of Bibby Stockholm.
Senior Conservative backbencher David Davis said the Home Office’s “appalling incompetence” was exposed after the evacuation.
However, ministers intend to move ahead with their plans to lease more barges to house asylum seekers, as well as student accommodation and former office buildings, The Telegraph reported.
People who were staying at the Bibby Stockholm, which has been touted as a cheaper alternative to expensive hotels for those waiting out their claims, are now being relocated to other accommodations.
The Home Office said the health and well-being of asylum seekers “remained the top priority” and that the evacuation had taken place as a precautionary measure, with all protocols and advice being followed.
Mr Davies on Sunday defended the Government’s handling of the backlash, saying the evacuation of the ship “actually shows how we are putting people’s safety first”.
Asked if the incident indicates a wider failure within the Home Office, he told Times Radio: “No, it does not. That’s not the case at all. The checks have been carried out.”
But Shadow Education Minister Bridget Phillipson said a “better, fairer system” was needed to tackle the backlog of asylum applications and reduce the need for temporary housing.
She told the same show that prosecutions of people smugglers would be “nullified” under the current government.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton said the government’s “small boat week” and associated immigration announcements were “held hostage to fate”.
He said Times Radio: “I think it probably wasn’t a good idea to do a small boat week. It was a hostage of fate and it clearly depends on how many people risk their lives getting across the English Channel, which depends on the weather and the modus operandi of people smugglers.”