hm prison weare

HM Prison Weare

The story of HMP Weare winds through controversy, changing purpose and questions about the role floating prisons can and should play. Originally built as an accommodation and support vessel for offshore oil operations in 1979, the ship would later spend nearly a decade as a prison floating in Portland Harbour in the UK.

After closure under criticism and sale in 2006, the vessel returned to its original purpose as an accommodation barge, this time providing housing for offshore workers in Nigeria. The varied history of HMP Weare intertwines with broader stories about innovation and ethics in detention facilities.

As an Accommodation Barge

Constructed in Sweden as the Safe Esperia for the company Consafe Offshore AB, HMP Weare and her sister vessels were built explicitly to provide versatile floating accommodation and support capabilities for offshore oil and gas operations. Featuring amenities and comforts for several hundred residents, the ship was also equipped with a helicopter pad and deck space for equipment and cargo.

Sale to the British Bibby Line in 1982 saw a brief stint helping provide housing and aid for UK forces in the Falklands War, rechristened as Bibby Resolution. By the late 1980s, the ship’s next chapter was already in motion.

Conversion to a Prison Ship

Purchased by New York City officials, the former Safe Esperia was docked in the East River and converted to hold inmates, gaining the no-frills name Maritime Facility II. From 1988 to 1992, the stripped-down ship housed over 300 prisoners.

In the effort to increase detention capacity without expensive new infrastructure, New York was following in the footsteps of Britain’s own history of using decommissioned ships as floating prisons or “hulks”, dating back to the late 1700s.

HMP Weare

When the search arose for options to ease prison crowding in the UK in the 1990s, the newly available Maritime Facility II seemed a convenient solution. After the completion of formal planning permissions, the ship was moved across the Atlantic to Portland Harbour.

See also  HM Prison Rye Hill

Now christened HMP Weare, the ship featured five levels of cells with the capacity to hold some 400 male prisoners, generally those nearing the end of their sentences. In addition to providing needed space for inmates, the floating prison was praised for bringing new economic activity to Portland, reportedly contributing £9 million annually and creating hundreds of jobs.

However, it wasn’t long before controversy around the suitability and ethics of confining inmates aboard the aging ship began stirring debate and opposition. But early inspections brought surprisingly positive reports.

Inspections and Criticisms

After two years of operation, government inspectors filed a broadly satisfactory report, noting that HMP Weare was providing adequate “treatment and conditions for prisoners under difficult circumstances.” However, undercurrents of criticism continued from groups ranging from penal reform advocates to local businesses complaining that the visual blight was deterring tourism.

But opinions and conditions pivoted negative shortly thereafter. Further inspections revealed severely limited ability for inmate exercise or fresh air access due to the intrinsic constraints of the vessel. The tight quarters and lack of programming raised alarms over human rights violations regarding basic dignities and treatment for those incarcerated onboard.

Closure and Sale

While the UK Prison Service attempted to rebut complaints for a period and considered options for increasing outdoor access, the criticisms ultimately prevailed. In 2005, HMP Weare was scheduled to close, lacking refurbishment funds and deemed unnecessary as overcrowding had eased in parallel facilities.

After a brief reopening, the prison closed permanently the next year. Having cost millions to operate, failed inspection benchmarks, and incited ethical debates, the debate shifted to how to dispose of or reuse the retired floating penal facility. Among discussed options were relocation to house police detainees or scuttling the vessel for use as a diving site.

New Life as Jascon 27

In recent years, ships reaching the end of their working lives may be sold cheaply to ship breakers, especially in South Asia, often meeting with hazardous, exploitative and polluting conditions.

See also  HM Prison Prescoed

However, after its penal chapter closed, the former HMP Weare has embarked on a more optimistic trajectory. Purchased by the Sea Trucks Group, the vessel has been refurbished to almost original purpose. Now named Jascon 27, the ship has been upgraded to provide comfortable accommodation for some 500 offshore industry workers.

Departing Portland Harbour, the refreshed and renamed vessel returned to service in 2010 as a modern accommodation and support barge, this time serving fossil fuel operations offshore of Nigeria.


While brief compared to the ship’s prior and future commercial maritime purpose, the 10-year stint as HMP Weare leaves a complicated legacy in Britain’s extensive history of floating detention facilities.

Installed in hopes of relief and rehabilitation, the repurposed ship instead came to signify policy shortcomings. Its closing spotlighted ethical obligations regarding inmate welfare and labor standards behind bars. However, the economic infusion and jobs initially provided to a struggling Portland community also highlight the complex tradeoffs embedded in decisions around the prison system.

Perhaps most significantly, the former prison ship now renamed and returned to its initial use hints that with appropriate reforms, transformations in purpose need not be one-directional. While still raising labor questions in its current form, the vessel’s next chapter may yet be more dignified than one confined below deck behind bars.

Unanswered Questions

The winding saga of this ocean-faring structure leaves some remaining uncertainties even after four decades of activity. What lies ahead for the finances, standards and work conditions aboard Jascon 27 offshore Nigeria? And what became of former HMP Weare prisoners after the facility’s closure?

Might remnants of repair, repurposing or waste materials still be tracing to old ports and shipyards? Do locals and visitors in Portland still reference the bygone floating prison or has it faded from conscious memory?

See also  HM Prison Shotts

Only the ongoing rippling impacts in lives, communities and marine environments can reveal the legacy and loose ends left by even a single decommissioned ship’s unpredictable journey.

Perhaps above all, it prompts us to envision what social purpose aging vessels might yet fulfill if regulatory reforms and ethical creativity aligned – whether in offender rehabilitation, affordable housing, disaster relief or beyond.


The course of HMP Weare winds through changing names, owners and purpose – from Swedish built oil barge to UK prison facility to Nigerian industry housing. Among twists, this path reveals interconnected roles ships often play in embedded stories about labor, dignity, utility and environmental impacts.

Despite its short life as a correctional facility, Weare’s rise and fall spotlighted ongoing debates about meeting prisoner needs for both countries grappling with similar histories repurposing aging ships for detention overflow facilities when onshore space runs short.

Its revival as Jascon 27 fueling offshore oil also underscores how portability and adaptability may allow retired or discarded vessels unforeseen second lives – for good or ill – based on imagination, choice and developing priorities shaping marine industries’ trajectories.


Q: Why did the UK opt to house prisoners on a ship?

A: With overcrowding in land prisons, officials adapted a ship as temporary fix. Floating facilities held promise for expanding space while minimizing infrastructure costs.

Q: How was Weare controversial as a detention site?

A: Critics argued confining inmates to cramped ship quarters without fresh air failed to meet human rights standards for basic dignities.

Q: What arguments supported the use of prison ships like Weare?

A: Proponents noted floating facilities efficiently address space shortages and lighten load for parallel institutions. HMP Weare also brought economic stimulus through local jobs and purchases.

Q: Has the UK permanently closed all floating prison facilities now?

A: No, but increased scrutiny on conditions and inmate rights make extended reliance on unmodified ships less viable long-term. Updated or specially designed vessels may still be considered.

Q: Why did inspectors change from positive to negative verdicts?

A: While initially satisfactory for temporary overflow facility, lack of inmate exercise areas and outdoor access took increasing priority over time as violations against UN detention standards.

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