Asylum seekers are to be removed from the Bibby Stockholm barge due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

The Home Office has said it is removing all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel, docked in Portland Port in Dorset, this week as a “precautionary measure”.

The disembarkment comes only four days after the first 15 asylum seekers boarded the barge.

Around 50 people had been expected to move on to the giant vessel but around 20 were granted a last-minute reprieve after a series of legal challenges.

Dorset Echo: Asylum seekers have been removed from Bibby Stockholm after the discovery of legionella bacteria.Asylum seekers have been removed from Bibby Stockholm after the discovery of legionella bacteria. (Image: PA)

What is legionella bacteria and how does it cause legionnaires disease?

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), Legionella bacteria are usually found naturally in freshwater environments, like lakes and streams.

The bacteria can become a health concern when they grow and spread in human-made building water systems including:

  • Showerheads and taps (that are not used often)
  • Air conditioning systems
  • Humidifiers
  • Hot tubs and spas

CDCP said: "After Legionella grows and multiplies in a building water system, water containing Legionella can spread in droplets small enough for people to breathe in.

"People can get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria.

"Less commonly, people can get sick by aspiration of drinking water containing Legionella. This happens when water accidently goes into the lungs while drinking."

What is Legionnaires' disease?

The NHS describes Legionnaires' disease as "a lung infection you can get from inhaling droplets of water from things like air conditioning or hot tubs".

The NHS said the disease is uncommon but it can be "very serious".

It said that no migrants that were staying on the Bibby Stockholm barge have fallen sick or developed Legionnaires’ disease (at the time of publication).

Dorset Echo: Coughing or being short of breath can by a symptom of legionnaires' disease.Coughing or being short of breath can by a symptom of legionnaires' disease. (Image: Getty Images)

What are the symptoms of legionnaires' disease? 

According to the NHS, the symptoms of Legionnaires' disease include:

  • A cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort, particularly when breathing or coughing
  • A high temperature
  • Flu-like symptoms

The NHS said anyone that displays the following symptoms should seek urgent help from their local GP:

  • A cough that's lasted 3 weeks or more
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain that comes and goes, or happens when breathing or coughing
  • Feeling short of breath

The NHS added: "Tell them (GP) where you've been in the last 10 days, such as if you stayed in a hotel, spa or hospital.

"You can call 111 or get help from 111 online."

How to treat Legionnaires' disease?

You may need to go to hospital if you're diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease.

The NHS website says treatment in hospital may include:

  • Antibiotics given directly into a vein
  • Oxygen through a face mask or tubes in your nose
  • A machine to help you breathe

Most people make a full recovery, but it might take a few weeks to feel back to normal.

Has the legionella bacteria spread beyond the Bibby Stockholm barge?

A Home Office spokesperson said initial investigations into the discovery of the bacteria had shown no signs it posed a direct risk to the surrounding community of Portland. 

Dorset Echo: The legionella bacteria does not pose a direct risk to the surrounding community.The legionella bacteria does not pose a direct risk to the surrounding community. (Image: PA)

The spokesperson said: “Environmental samples from the water system on the Bibby Stockholm have shown levels of Legionella bacteria which require further investigation.

“Following these results, the Home Office has been working closely with UKHSA and following its advice in line with long-established public health processes, and ensuring all protocol from Dorset Council’s environmental health team and Dorset NHS is adhered to.

“As a precautionary measure, all 39 asylum seekers who arrived on the vessel this week are being disembarked while further assessments are undertaken.

“No individuals on board have presented with symptoms of Legionnaires’, and asylum seekers are being provided with appropriate advice and support.

“The samples taken relate only to the water system on the vessel itself and therefore carry no direct risk indication for the wider community of Portland nor do they relate to fresh water entering the vessel."