LONDON (ABC NEWS) – Two more people have been arrested by police after 39 bodies were found in a truck container earlier this week.
A 38-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman on suspicion of 39 counts of both manslaughter and human trafficking, police said in a statement.
On Wednesday, a 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland was the first person arrested and is being held on suspicion of murder. Police announced on Thursday that they had secured a warrant to hold the man in police custody for a further 24 hours.
Emergency services were called to an industrial park in the town of Grays in Essex, 20 miles east of London, at around 1:40 a.m. local time on Wednesday when the vehicle was discovered to have people inside. Thirty-nine people were pronounced dead at the scene.
The first 11 victims were transported to the mortuary at Broomfield Hospital about 25 miles north of the town of Grays on Thursday evening under police escort, officials said.
The first autopsy on one of the victims will be conducted Friday. Officials said it will take some time to get formal identifications of the victims.
Police confirmed that there were 8 women, and 31 men and believe the victims were all Chinese nationals. But on Friday, officials noted that “as our investigations continue, the picture may change regarding identification.”
“This is the largest investigation of its kind Essex Police has ever had to conduct and it is likely to take some considerable time to come to a conclusion,” BJ Harrington, chief constable of the Essex police, said in a statement on Thursday evening. He also extended his condolences to the families of the victims.
A Vietnamese woman is now feared among the victims according to Sky News. Hoa Nghiem, a Vietnamese woman who works as a coordinator at Human Rights Space, tweeted on Friday that a 26-year-old woman’s family are trying to confirm whether she was on the truck.
The Chinese embassy in London said the victims’ nationalities could not be confirmed.
“The Chinese Embassy has sent a team led by the minister-counsellor in charge of consular affairs to Essex, England. They have met with the local police. The police said that they are verifying the identity of the deceased, whose nationality still cannot be confirmed,” according to a statement from an embassy spokesperson.
Trucks are made of two parts: a tractor unit and the detachable trailer in which goods are transported. The tractor unit and the trailer entered the U.K. separately in this case. The tractor unit had traveled to the U.K. from Dublin via the port of Holyhead on Sunday, police said. The trailer traveled into the U.K. from the Belgian coastal town of Zeebrugge, where it was collected by the tractor unit at around 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 23.
Later that morning, police arrested the 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland and have confirmed that three properties in Northern Ireland have been searched in connection with their investigation.
The Belgium Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on Thursday that it has opened an investigation into the case, in collaboration with British authorities. The office said that preliminary results of their investigation indicate that the trailer arrived and left Zeebrugge on the same day — Oct. 22. “It is not yet clear when the victims were placed in the container and whether this happened in Belgium,” they said.