Asylum seekers moved off controversial UK barge after deadly bacteria found in ship’s water

LONDON — Dozens of migrants have been evacuated from a controversial offshore barge used by Britain as temporary asylum accommodation after deadly bacteria was found in the water supply.

The legionella bacteria, which can cause pneumonia-like illnesses, was discovered in the water system on board the Bibby Stockholm vessel, the U.K. Home Office confirmed in a statement. 

All 39 asylum seekers currently housed on the boat had to be moved out immediately pending further assessment of the risks onboard, the Home Office said. “The health and welfare of individuals on the vessel is our utmost priority,” a spokesperson added.

The Home Office was unable to confirm where the migrants are being rehoused.

So far there have been no confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease, an illness caused by the bacteria which the National Health Service says kills around 1 in 10 people who contract it.

The first migrants were only moved aboard the ship Monday after weeks of delay, with additional safety checks being carried out throughout last weekend. 

The U.K. government had pressed ahead with the plan despite concerns raised by the Fire Brigades Union, which described the barge as a “potential death trap.”

Ministers are under pressure to find an alternative to housing asylum seekers in hotels, a practice which the Home Office says costs taxpayers £2.3 billion a year. 

U.K. Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said Tuesday that the Bibby Stockholm is “safe and decent accommodation.”