UK Explores Using Retired Passenger Ships to House Asylum Seekers

UK considers using ferries or passenger ships to house asylum seeking migrants
The Eastern Docks in Dover where ferries regularly dock - photo by DeFacto (Wikicommons CC BY-SA)

Published Oct 1, 2020 5:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

The shipping industry’s role with migrants and asylum seekers was recently brought to the forefront with the incident on the Maersk Etienne where 27 people were spent 40 days aboard the tanker before the ere permitted to land. The British government, however, if it follows up on its latest idea has a new plan to possibly purposefully use ships for migrants.

According to a report in the Financial Times, the British government is looking for a solution on how to handle the influx of asylum seekers into the country. One of the plans under consideration is reportedly for the government to buy or charter either retired cruise ships or ferries to act as housing and processing centers for the migrants. 

The British government reported that there were 35,099 asylum applications for the year ended March 2020, up more than 11 percent from the prior year. This is the count for applications, which may be individuals or families. The Financial Times, however, reports what prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office to explore options was a more than five times increase in small boats crossing the English Channel. Reportedly more than 400 migrants crossed the Channel on one day in August.

It is unclear how the plan would work and opposition leaders have denounced the idea. The media in the UK are now reporting that a range of ideas has been proposed including the passenger ships. The government considered sending the migrants 4,000 miles away to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, putting the migrants on oil platforms in the North Sea, and now the idea of using the retired cruise ships and ferries.

The government is also according to the Financial Times looking at a range of options to block the migrants from reaching the British shore. This includes the use of offshore barriers, like oil containment booms, floating in the Channel, or possibly using small boats to form a blockade of the primary landing points along the shore.

It would not be the first time that passenger ships have been used as housing. In March MSC and ferry operator Grand Navi Veloci worked together to provide both a cruise ship and a ferry as housing for patients recovering during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy. Similarly, in May, Genting Hong Kong provided Singapore with two of its cruise ships to act as accommodation ships for foreign workers also recovering from the virus. At the beginning of the outbreak in the US, Carnival Cruise Lines offered some of its ships, but the US Government declined the offer. The US government in the past chartered cruise ships to act as housing for people after hurricanes destroyed their communities.

There are also a variety of ships that would be available. Today, Marella Cruises announced it is retiring its cruise ship the Marella Dream, which accommodates over 1,100 passengers. Fred. Olsen last week said that it had sold two of its retired cruise ships, each with a capacity of 800 passengers, to operate as accommodation ships.

Commenting on the plan, the British prime minister’s office only said that they were exploring a broad range of options. They said they would also study what other countries have done to handle asylum seekers.