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Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
September 1, 2023

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Fire safety concerns raised over Bibby Stockholm – Five improvements required include escape routes, ventilation and firestopping

The fire safety challenges around the Bibby Stockholm barge, moored at Portland Port in Dorset and set to house over 500 asylum seekers, remain ongoing.

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The Bibby Stockholm barge is currently moored at Portland Port in Dorset. (Credit: Jory Mundy/AlamyStock)

The barge, which will eventually house around 500 male asylum seekers, originally delayed arrivals due to fire safety concerns and checks.

According to a source speaking to The Times, the barge could be seen as a “floating Grenfell”, indicating significant concerns around fire safety.

A spokesperson for Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) told IFSEC Insider that it is continuing to liaise with “partner agencies, the Bibby Stockholm’s operator and the Home Office”, but that managing the safety rests with the Responsible Person.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), as well as other whistleblowers, raised several concerns around the fire risks before asylum seekers first arrived, and have continued to do so. The Government has maintained its position that the barge is safe and has met the relevant fire safety checks.

Migrants were eventually moved on to the barge in early August, only to be removed a week later when Legionella bacteria was found within the water supply.

On Tuesday 29 August, Refugee Action received a letter from DWFRS via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, detailing the fire safety issues the fire service found on the Bibby Stockholm from its inspection on 16 August. Five items were found which primarily focus on emergency escape routes and safe evacuation – detailed below – that required completion within one month.

This is an ongoing story – IFSEC Insider provides the latest updates, below…


Latest updates

1 September: IFSEC Insider sees the letter sent to Refugee Action from DWFRS on 29 September obtained via an FoI request. The letter was sent to Landry & Kling, the vessel’s operator, on 16 August, outlining the fire safety issues found by the fire service upon inspection of the barge. Improvements would be expected to be completed within one month of receiving the letter. Five items were outlined by DWFRS:

  1. The alternative escape route from the stern of the barge leading from the canteen should be reinstated, as the current provision of exits from that area are inadequate for the number of people required to use them
  2. Securing mechanisms that are easy to open from the inside should be fitted to 10 of the bedrooms so people can open them easily in the case of an emergency
  3. A vent should be fitted at the head of two stairways which can be opened manually by the FRS so that any residual smoke may be ventilated in the stairways during evacuation
  4. The fire resistance to the wall of a store room should be reinstated and penetrations sealed by a competent person, as the installation of an air transfer grille has breached the fire resisting integrity of the wall
  5. Regular fire drills should be carried out during both day and night to practice and evidence the resilience of the procedures put in place in the case of fire

Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said: “No one should be forced to live cheek by jowl on what is effectively a prison ship – even if it was 100 per cent fire safe. But it’s appalling that Ministers were happy to move people onto this boat while there were insufficient fire escapes, problems with air vents, and no strategy to conduct drills.

“The Bibby Stockholm has become a floating statue of the Government’s failed strategy of cruelty. This plan must be scrapped and people housed with dignity in our communities.”

29 August: The Government may now face a legal challenge over the fire safety of the barge. Lawyers for the Fire Brigades Union have written to the Home Secretary raising issues including overcrowding and fire exit access on board. This follows from earlier concerns raised by the Union (see below), with further reports indicating one of the fire exits could not be used safely as it was too steep.

The Government has dismissed these claims, arguing the Bibby Stockholm was safe and that it had completed all required fire safety checks.

9 August: Responding to an enquiry from IFSEC Insider for further comment, Landry & Kling pointed us (via its PR representatives) towards the Government’s factsheet on Bibby Stockholm.

It highlighted the notes in the factsheet which state that the “fire safety standards on the Bibby Stockholm are the same as any other berthed vessel and meet the industry standard”.

It is also noted that “a fire protocol has been developed” with DWFRS which includes “appropriate fire exits and safe congregation of those aboard beyond the quayside area, outside the gated area”.


Read more: Burning decks – Complexities in the rising trend of marine fires


“Plan must be scrapped”

Upon receiving the DWFRS’ fire risk assessment, Tim Naor Hilton, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said: “No one should be forced to live cheek by jowl on what is effectively a prison ship – even if it was 100 per cent fire safe. But it’s appalling that Ministers were happy to move people onto this boat while there were insufficient fire escapes, problems with air vents, and no strategy to conduct drills.

“The Bibby Stockholm has become a floating statue of the Government’s failed strategy of cruelty. This plan must be scrapped and people housed with dignity in our communities.”

“Fire risk assessment appropriate mechanism for determining fire safety measures”

When concerns were initially raised around in July, Fire Safety Manager for DWFRS, Graham Kewley, explained: “Responsibility for planning, implementing and managing the safety of barge residents’ rests with the Responsible Person, as defined in fire safety legislation, in conjunction with the master of the vessel.

“Where any aspect falls within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, we will be undertaking appropriate audits to confirm that adequate general fire precautions are in place. We have provided advice and comment in relation to fire safety arrangements to both the Home Office and the vessels 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 and Landry & Kling as the vessel operator – under their contract with the Home Office – to produce and keep this document under review.

“We do not conduct fire risk assessments or provide an approval process prior to occupation of a premises but will exercise our enforcement powers (either formal or informal) to address any significant areas of non-compliance where necessary.

“It would be inappropriate for DWFRS to provide further detail on the specific systems and emergency plans in place, as these could impact upon the safety of the vessel and/or its occupants. This aligns with our approach to any other commercial or residential premises.”

FBU: “Putting safety at risk”

The Fire Brigades Union first raised concerns early in August. Writing to Home Secretary Suella Braverman on 2 August, the Union said it “is concerned about a potential lack of ingress and exit points; narrow corridors and doorways; and increased occupancy.”

Ben Selby, Fire Brigades Union Assistant General Secretary, explained: “The Fire Brigades Union represents the overwhelming majority of firefighters and emergency control staff across the UK, and it they who will be forced to deal with the consequences of any fire on board the Bibby Stockholm.

“As firefighters, we are driven by the need to prevent loss of life and protect public safety. Everyone has the right to live in safe and decent housing, no matter where they are from.

“The government has already scrapped vital fire safety measures for asylum seeker accommodation. Now, it wants to put more than 500 people onto an off-shore barge designed to hold around 200.

“This is a cruel and reckless approach to the welfare of asylum seekers, and puts the safety of firefighters at risk.”

In response, Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, suggested that concerns from the FBU were politically motivated, but that any concerns would be taken into account.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (3 August), he added: “We’re confident that we will be able to address all of the concerns. I’m absolutely certain about that and I’m absolutely certain we will be able to get people on this vessel in the coming weeks.”

 

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