The arrival of the first migrants expected to board the asylum barge Bibby Stockholm has been delayed.
On Monday night, it was reported the Home Office had postponed transferring people seeking asylum onto the giant barge to allow for last-minute fire safety checks.
It is understood that the plan to transfer refugees onto the ship in Portland, Dorset, has been pushed back from today to tomorrow to allow officials to carry out a final survey.
Around 40 people living in alternative accommodation have been given transfer letters which said they will be moved to the floating vessel, said Whitehall sources.
The Home Office was dealt a blow after a fire safety whistleblower warned it could become a “floating Grenfell”. They pointed to the vessel’s long narrow corridors with 222 cabins and only two exits.
Downing Street has confirmed the barge was “undergoing final preparations, including fire safety checks”.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary said: “That’s happening this week to ensure that it complies with all the appropriate regulations. There’s been refurbishment that’s been ongoing to ensure it complies with marine safety regulations.
“We continue to work extremely closely with the local council… to ensure the right preparations are in place before anyone boards.”
Fire chiefs are said to be worried about evacuation. But this is understood to relate to when the barge is full. The Home Office is expected to gradually increase numbers, starting with up to 50 this week, though 506 could eventually be housed.
Graham Kewley, of Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, said they “will exercise our enforcement powers, either formal or informal, to address any significant areas of non-compliance where necessary”.
He added: “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 vessel’s operators during our familiarisation and pre-occupation visits.”
Officials involved in the refurbishment admitted they would not do fire drills in case it scared traumatised refugees from war zones.
The Health and Safety Executive said it conducted an inspection last week and issues on the quayside near the barge had been addressed.
It comes as the Home Office delayed housing migrants at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, the former home of the Dambusters, until October amid a legal challenge.
And it is also facing a court showdown overuse of a former RAF base at Wethersfield, Essex.
Braintree Council has been given permission to seek an injunction.
Some 14,782 migrants have crossed the Channel this year. But the next 12 weeks are set to be the busiest as weather conditions improve. A total of 45,755 people crossed last year, peaking in August, September and October.
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