UK Charters Bibby Accommodation Barge to House Asylum Seekers

UK charters accommodation barge
Bibby Stockholm can accommodate up to 500 people (Bibby Marine)

Published Apr 5, 2023 8:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

Faced with rising costs and what UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called an unsustainable situation, the UK’s Home Office confirmed today that it is chartering an accommodation vessel to provide housing for migrants caught attempting to enter the country in small boats. The government said it recognizes that using alternative sites and vessels involves difficult decisions, but that urgent action is needed to reduce expensive hotel use and the attraction of coming to the UK illegally.

The Home Office chartered the Bibby Stockholm, an accommodation vessel built in 1976 and which has previously been used in similar capacities in Germany and the Netherlands as well as to house construction workers in the offshore gas and wind sectors. The vessel is operated by Bibby Marine which says it was recently refurbished and is currently available. The vessel has been chartered for at least 18 months and will be docked at Portland Port, in Dorset, England. 

“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbors are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money and to prevent the UK becoming a magnet for asylum shoppers in Europe,” said the UK’s Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick announcing this plan. “All accommodation will meet our legal obligations and we will work closely with the local community to address their concerns, including through financial support.”

Sunak has taken an aggressive stance against the influx of migrants ahead of elections which are largely expected to take place in 2024. The UK has struggled for years with how to handle the people mostly crossing the English Channel illegally in small boats. Government data shows that approximately 4,000 migrants in 97 boats have been detected since the start of 2023. In the last week, 224 people were detected on seven boats. News of the plan to use accommodation barges leaked out in the press last week.

The government is placing a priority on taking steps to stop the boats. The Home Secretary has said that they must reduce the unsustainable pressure on the UK’s asylum system and lower the cost to taxpayers. The government reports it is spending £6 million (approximately $7.5 million) a day for hotel accommodations.

They justify the use of the accommodation vessel highlighting similar programs elsewhere in Europe. Both the Netherlands and Scotland they point out chartered ferries in 2022 to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. 

The Bibby Stockholm is 306 feet long with three decks of accommodations and 222 cabins. It is 10,659 gross tons and has a maximum capacity of 500 people. It has onboard boilers for hot water and heat and connections for shore power and sewerage. 

Officials for Portland Port said they were “keen to play our part in the national effort to house,” the asylum seekers. They said they would be working with local agencies, including health and emergency services, to prepare for the arrival of the Bibby Stockholm.

The government plans to accommodate about 500 single adult males on the vessel while their asylum claims are being processed. They said the vessel will provide “basic and functional accommodation” and healthcare, as well as catering facilities. They will also have 24/7 security aboard. People whose asylum claims are refused and have exhausted their appeal rights, however, will be removed from the UK.

In addition to the accommodation barge, the government last week said it plans to begin moving asylum seekers from hotels to surplus military sites as part of its efforts to secure alternative, more appropriate accommodations other than costly hotels. No timing was announced for when the Bibby Stockholm would arrive in the UK with the government only saying that migrants are due to be moved to the vessel in the coming months.