39 dead bodies found in cooling container in Essex: what is known so far
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39 dead bodies found in cooling container in Essex: what is known so far

A truck carrying a refrigerated container with 39 dead bodies was found in the English city of Essex on Wednesday.

According to the British police, the truck had sailed by boat from the Belgian city of Zeebrugge, close to Bruges, to the town of Purfleet in England and was then placed in Grays, reports De Morgen.

Here’s what is known at the moment:

It entered England via Zeebrugge

The Belgian shipping line company Cobelfret detected the transport that carried the refrigerated container in which 39 dead bodies of reportedly Chinese nationality were found, and confirmed that it passed through their checks, reports De Morgen.

It was initially assumed that the truck carrying the container had arrived in England from Bulgaria via the town of Holyhead in Wales.

The victims were Chinese citizens

The identification of 39 victims has begun. Both the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the British authorities have confirmed on Thursday that the bodies are all Chinese citizens, according to several British media sources.

There would be 38 adults and a teenager. The police warned, however, that the process of identifying the bodies will not be a quick process.

The truck could not be scanned properly as it was a cooling container

The people were transported in a refrigerated container, which is how they passed through all the security checks. “A cooling container is insulated and hermetically sealed so tightly that a heat scanner would not detect any heat,” said Dirk De fauw, the mayor of Bruges and the chairman of the port, reports VRT NWS, adding that detection dogs or CO2 meters also cannot be used, for the same reasons.

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“Using a heat scanner on cooling transport is impossible because the containers are hermetically sealed. Apart from that, the paperwork and sealing of the truck were completely in order,” the port personnel said, reports De Morgen. A refrigerated container is only broken open if there are indications of suspicious transport, if the seal has been broken or if there are errors with the paperwork.

The involvement of professional crime gang suspected

“Everything points to a very professional criminal gang that already put these people in the container before it was sealed, meaning just outside of the port area. We assume that it was impossible for those people to crawl into the container in the port area within the port itself. Especially seeing as the seal was intact and there were no signs of a breach,” said De fauw.

Officers in Northern Ireland have raided two houses and the National Crime Agency said it was working to identify “organised crime groups who may have played a part,” reports BBC.

The driver ‘most likely’ did not know about the people inside

The driver, 25, is from the city of Armagh, Northern Ireland. He was arrested on suspicion of murder and is being questioned by British authorities on Thursday.

The man “most likely” had no knowledge of plans for human trafficking, report British media. According to some of his friends, the trucker had parked his vehicle on an industrial estate and left to do some paperwork. He opened the container and found the bodies. He called the emergency services, who in turn informed the police.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

This story is updating.