The UK Government has announced plans to lease a giant Bibby Marine barge to house around 500 asylum seekers off the Dorset coast.

The Bibby Stockholm barge has been leased for “at least 18 months”, according to a Home Office press release, from Liverpool-based Bibby Marine, which specialises in hiring vessels to transport and house off-shore workers, mainly for the energy sector.

Although the government has not released any costing information on the leasing deal, the Home Office has described it as “significantly cheaper than hotels”, which the government says is costing £6m a day. The Evening Standard has reported that “estimates have put the overall price tag of the charter and the berthing at more than £20,000 a day”.

The 222-bedroom Bibby Stockholm barge is to be moored at Portland Port in Dorset and provide accommodation for single male asylum seekers while their claims are being processed.

The vessel, which is currently moored in Genoa in Italy, is to be towed to the UK and will be operational “as soon as possible” according to Richard Holden, the parliamentary undersecretary for roads & transport, who told Kay Burley on Sky News that the first people could be on the barge within weeks.

Mr Holden also said that the Bibby Stockholm is just the first of a number of such barges, which the government plans to moor in major ports around the country, with the Daily Mail reporting that “there are plans are in motion to hire a second barge able to hold four times as many people, likely to be moored in a major port town or city.”

The Bibby Stockholm was previously used to house asylum seekers in the Netherlands in the 2000s but was taken out of service after a Dutch media investigation uncovered abuses taking place on board. It was later refurbished and was berthed off Lerwick from 2013 to house Petrofac workers building the Shetland Gas Plant.

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