Tilbury Docks: Man dies as 35 stowaways are found 'screaming and banging' in container

Trafficked people are thought to have travelled for nine days

Police have launched an international investigation after 35 stowaways were discovered yesterday "screaming and banging" inside a shipping container on a ship at Tilbury docks in Essex, where one man died.

Dozens more, suffering from severe dehydration and hypothermia, were taken to hospital after the 35 men, women and children were found on the ship, which had recently arrived from Belgium.

Following the man's death, Essex Police announced they were treating the incident as a homicide, and were liaising with the UK Border Agency and with law enforcement agencies in Belgium.

It is understood the stowaways, who are believed to originate from Afghanistan, were put inside the container nine days ago. According to a UK port security source, police have information that a second container with 12 people inside is still to be found.

Port officials made the discovery early yesterday morning after "screaming and banging" was heard from inside a container on a P&O vessel that had arrived at Tilbury docks on Friday night from the port of Zeebrugge. Police, as well as seven ambulances and two rapid-response vehicles, with paramedics, quickly arrived on the scene and declared it a "major incident", as officials from the UK Border Agency broke into the container.

The 35 "adults and children of both genders" found inside were taken to hospitals in Basildon and Southend in Essex, and to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London. Two of the survivors were said to be in a "serious but not life-threatening" condition. Eleven adults and seven children were later described as "medically fit enough" to be released, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Daniel Gore of East of England Ambulance Service said the fatality occurred soon after medics had arrived at the Tilbury docks. Staff became aware of "screaming and banging", he said. "As a result, staff were alerted and immediately breached the container. The first crew arrived. The container was being opened. It was a very difficult scene. The gentleman was obviously very, very ill. We declared it a major incident very quickly."

To guard against infectious and contagious diseases, including Ebola, decontamination zones were quickly set up around the docks, which handle two million containers each year. Police were also on guard outside Basildon hospital.

An ambulance incident van passes the main entrance to Tilbury Docks in Essex, where a shipping container was found with illegal immigrants inside An ambulance incident van passes the main entrance to Tilbury Docks in Essex, where a shipping container was found with illegal immigrants inside
Superintendent Trevor Roe from Essex Police said other containers on the freighter Norstream were being searched to make sure there were no other people inside. The Norstream left the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium at 10pm on Friday and arrived at Tilbury at 6am on Saturday after an eight-hour crossing. The containers the stowaways were found inside are 40ft long, 8ft wide and have 8ft headroom. No containers are airtight, but the air supply is restricted.

"This is a humanitarian issue, and the welfare of these patients is a priority," he said. It is not known where the container, one of 64 aboard the P&O vessel, originated.

At a press conference, Supt Roe was asked if it would be difficult to track down the people behind the incident "who are likely in a country very far away".

He replied: "It will be a difficult investigation. We will try to find whoever was involved in this conspiracy to bring these people to this country. We want to bring these people to justice."

Officials are standing by to interview the stowaways at a reception centre after they are released from hospital. Police said that there were "language issues", and that interpreters would be brought in.

Belgian police say they believe the lorry which delivered the container to Zeebrugge has been identified through CCTV footage. They do not, however, have information yet about where it originated.

The South Basildon and East Thurrock MP Stephen Metcalfe described the incident as "tragic". He told the BBC: "The fact that so many people appear to have travelled so far and are so desperate to get into the UK – either on their own or being trafficked – is very sad." The Tory MP said it was important "to get to the root causes of what is motivating people to go to such extreme lengths to get into the UK", and to tackle people-trafficking.

According to the website MarineTraffic.com, the 20,000-ton, 180m Norstream was built in 1999 and is registered in The Netherlands. Yves Le Clef, the harbour master at the Port of Zeebrugge, said he had no information about the incident.

According to the UK Border Agency, the number of "clandestine illegal entry attempts" by people to enter the UK via ports in Belgium and France increased last year to 18,000 from about 11,000 in the previous 12 months.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent