All 39 people who were found dead inside a truck container in England on Wednesday were Chinese nationals, Essex Police confirmed Thursday morning.
The victims included 31 men and 8 women, one of whom police described as a “young adult woman.” The grim discovery is reminiscent of a similar incident in 2000 when 58 Chinese stowaways died in a truck traveling by ferry from Belgium to Britain.
China said it was sending staff from its U.K. embassy to the truck’s location outside London to investigate the incident.
The police are continuing to question Mo Robinson, a 25-year-old truck driver from Portadown in Northern Ireland, on suspicion of murder. They raided three properties in County Armagh on Wednesday night, all understood to be connected to Robinson.
Police are still trying to piece together how the victims got into the container and where the container originated.
According to the latest update from the police, the container was transported by ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge on Tuesday night, arriving just after midnight on Wednesday at the port of Purfleet in the U.K.
Robinson, who had traveled from Ireland to the U.K., picked up the container just after 1 a.m. Ambulance staff discovered the bodies at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays just before 1:40 a.m. and alerted the police.
Officials in Belgium say they are investigating how long the container was in the country before traveling to the U.K. and who was involved in organizing it. They said the container arrived in Zeebrugge at 2:49 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.
The National Crime Agency says it is trying to identify any "organized crime groups who may have played a part.”
Initial reports suggested that the truck may have come from Bulgaria because it was registered there. "The Scania truck was registered in Varna (on the east coast of Bulgaria) under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen,” the Bulgarian foreign ministry said.
The police said the process of identifying the victims will be a lengthy one.
“Each of the 39 people must undergo a full coroner’s process to establish a cause of death before we move on to attempting to identify each individual within the trailer,” Essex Police said in a statement. “This will be a substantial operation and, at this stage, we cannot estimate how long these procedures will take.”
Cover: Police officers drive away a lorry in which 39 dead bodies were discovered, sparking a murder investigation at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, east of London, on October 23, 2019. (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)