A MAN has died after 35 people, including children, were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex today.
The survivors – believed to be from the Indian subcontinent and suffering from severe dehydration and hypothermia – are being treated at nearby hospitals.
Police said have launched a “homicide investigation” into the incident in a container that arrived on a P&O ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 6.30am today.
Superintendent Trevor Rowe said: “We believe [they came] from the Indian subcontinent, but it is still early days. It is a homicide investigation.”
The group was discovered after port staff heard “screaming and banging” coming from a container. He said there were about 50 containers on the ferry and searches were continuing to establish whether any others contained people.
He said: “This is a humanitarian issue and the welfare of these patients is a priority.”
Rowe said a “major incident” was declared at the port. He said: “Staff here at the port became aware of screaming and banging coming from a container coming from that particular ferry. As a result of that noise, staff were alerted and immediately breached the container to find 35 persons within that unit.” The group consisted of adults and children of both genders.
The Norstream was described as a “roll-on, roll-off” container ferry. Rowe said: “It is a regular route here twice a day from Zeebrugge.”
He added: “There are 50 containers on that ferry, which we are continuing to open to make sure that there are no further incumbents within those containers.”
A search of the other containers was carried out earlier today. “That is the priority issue here at the moment – to make sure that there are no other containers on that particular ship that may or may not contain any persons,” Rowe said.
The unit in question was around the size routinely carried by a large heavy goods vehicle. Rowe said that once the door on the container was opened, those inside were extracted “very quickly”.
British authorities are understood to be liaising with their counterparts in Belgium as part of the investigation into the container’s origins.
Public Health England has said it was not involved in the response to, investigation of or anything to do with the incident.
A spokeswoman said: “If it was Ebola, healthcare professionals are so alert at the moment to signs and symptoms that should there have been anyone who was showing symptoms we would have been notified immediately.
“I think we can be confident that we are not dealing with that.”
Officials are set to interview the stowaways at a reception centre after they are released from hospital. Police said there are “language issues” and interpreters will be brought in.
Daniel Gore, from the East England ambulance service, said paramedics arrived on the scene within 11 minutes and immediately declared it a major incident.
He said: “In terms of the number of patients that we dealt with, it is 35 patients in total. Unfortunately one of those patients was declared deceased at the scene, a male.”
No information has been released about the ages of any of the stowaways or the relationship between them.
Two patients were taken to Basildon Hospital in a serious but not life-threatening condition, Gore added, along with 16 others suffering from dehydration and hypothermia.
Nine patients were taken to the Royal London Whitechapel hospital and a further seven to Southend Hospital, all with the same ailments.
All of those found in the container were conscious when it was opened apart from the man who subsequently died. Gore said it was a “very difficult scene” for the first paramedics arriving at the incident.
He added: “In terms of our current and ongoing operation here, we have got a number of resources still at the scene while the containers being removed from the vessel are being searched.
“We have set up an area adjacent to where that is taking place so any other further patients that are found will be immediately taken to that area, triaged accordingly and dealt with from there.”