Screaming for air in a metal coffin… the 35 innocent victims of people traffickers: Police launch murder probe after man dies in container ship horror
- Thirty five people, believed to be victims of people trafficking, were found locked inside shipping container yesterday
- Police launch murder probe after one man died, others were taken to hospital suffering dehydration and hypothermia
- Workers at Tilbury docks raised the alarm after they heard screaming and banging coming from metal container
A murder investigation was launched last night after a man was found dead in a shipping container crammed with 35 people, including women and young children – innocent victims of criminal gangs who traffic migrants across continents.
Workers at Tilbury Docks in Essex raised the alarm yesterday morning after hearing desperate cries for help from the sealed container, which had arrived on a P&O cargo ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
Those trapped inside were screaming and banging on the sides of the box as their oxygen supply began to run out.
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Police have launched a murder investigation after today after 35 people were found locked inside a shipping container, leading to one of them dying
Workers at Tilbury Docks in Essex discovered group of 35 illegal immigrants when they heard ‘screaming and banging’ coming from inside a container on this vessel
The P&O commercial ferry – called the Norstream – left Zeebrugge in Belgium at 10pm last night and arrived in the Essex docks at 6am
Exhausted, severely dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, they were taken to three hospitals in Essex and East London as police launched a major inquiry to track down the callous people-smugglers who had brought them to the UK in such shocking circumstances.
All the stowaways are thought to be Punjabis from the Indian subcontinent. They included seven young children who last night were recovering from their ordeal.
But one man failed to survive. Police said he was found dead when emergency workers forced their way inside the container.
Describing the appalling conditions inside the container, Superintendent Trevor Roe, of Essex Police, who is heading the investigation, said: ‘They had obviously been in there a significant amount of time.
‘They were suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. One person had died within the container – that gives you an indication of what the conditions were like.’
Detectives declined to say where the migrants had started their journey on the grounds that releasing the information might compromise their inquiry into what they described as a human-trafficking incident.
The container had been loaded from a lorry on to P&O’s Norstream ferry at Zeebrugge on Friday night.The ship arrived at Tilbury just after 5am yesterday and the alarm was raised nearly an hour and a half later when the desperate pleas for help were heard.
An immediate search was ordered of the other 50 containers on the ferry in case any more victims were trapped. One dock worker, who asked not to be named, said: ‘It’s an absolute tragedy. I feel for the guys who discovered it too. That’s got to be hard to see.’
Paramedics were on the scene within 11 minutes of the alarm first being raised and the authorities declared it a major incident.
All the survivors were conscious when the container was opened. They were treated for severe dehydration and hypothermia. Their conditions were said not to be life-threatening.
Daniel Gore, assistant chief officer of the East of England Ambulance Service, admitted the first paramedics to reach the dockside had encountered a ‘very difficult scene’.
Supt Roe added: ‘Staff here at the port became aware of screaming and banging from a container coming from that particular ferry.
The A&E department at Basildon University Hospital has been sealed off by police as a ‘decontamination area’
An aerial image shows the emergency services at the scene in Tilbury Docks, Essex
Officers were called after the group were discovered when the vessel was being unloaded
‘As a result of that noise, staff were alerted and immediately breached the container to find 35 persons within that unit.
‘It is a homicide investigation. We will be looking to see what gangs may be involved in this conspiracy to bring these people in this way over to this country. Clearly we need to try to bring them to justice.’
Supt Roe said possible charges could include murder and manslaughter, although there was no suggestion anyone from the container was a suspect.
He added: ‘All of the victims – and I will call them victims – are recovering fairly quickly in most cases, and are obviously being detained under immigration powers. They will be taken to a reception centre within the port of Tilbury.’
Eighteen survivors – two in a serious but stable condition – were taken to Basildon Hospital, where a decontamination area was set up. Mr Gore described the move as a precaution and said there were no specific concerns over infectious diseases.
A further nine went to Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, and seven to Southend Hospital.
Last night one member of the group was discharged from hospital and was taken to a reception centre for further questioning as interpreters were brought in to help communication with the stowaways.
The patients at Basildon University Hospital are reportedly being treated for dehydration and hypothermia
A P&O spokesman said the Norstream was carrying more than 50 containers, 72 trailers and five lorries plus their drivers on the crossing from Belgium.
Belgian police believe images of the lorry have been captured on CCTV. They do not, however, have any information yet about where the vehicle began its journey.
One of the largest Indian communities in Britain is from the Punjab region and nearly all the 500,000 Sikhs living in the UK are from that part of the subcontinent.
Many have settled in the Southall area of West London but there are also large communities in Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
A security van is parked outside the ‘decontamination area’ at Basildon University Hospital in Essex
Superintendent Trevor Roe from Essex Police (left) and Assistant Chief Ambulance Officer Daniel Gore from East of England Ambulance Service (right) address the media at a press conference
An ambulance enters Tilbury Docks to attend the ‘major incident’ which was reported when the container was discovered this morning
Police have set up a telephone hotline for anyone concerned about relatives. The numbers are 0800 056 0944 or 020 7158 0010 if dialling from abroad.
The 20,000-ton Norstream, which was built in 1999 and is registered in the Netherlands, makes the North Sea crossing from Zeebrugge to Tilbury twice a day.
The Thames estuary port is primarily a bulk cargo and container destination and not normally a prime target for illegal migrants.
The case has chilling echoes of an incident in 2000 when 58 Chinese men and women were found suffocated in a lorry that had arrived in Dover from Calais.
A year later, eight illegal migrants died in a shipping container which had been unloaded at an industrial estate in Wexford in Ireland after a crossing from Zeebrugge.
A Serbian people-trafficker was later convicted of their manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in prison.
One man has died after a group of 31 suspected illegal immigrants were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex
The ship (not pictured) was travelling from Zeebrugge in Belgium and was being unloaded when the group was discovered
Source: Daily Mail UK