LONDON (AP) — All 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container truck in England last week were Vietnamese nationals, British police said Friday, as three more people were arrested in Ireland and Vietnam in the sprawling international investigation into what appears to be a people-smuggling tragedy.
British detectives initially said the victims discovered near the southeast port of Purfleet on Oct. 23 were from China, but families from Vietnam have contacted authorities there with concerns for missing relatives.
Essex Police Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith said Friday that “at this time, we believe the victims are Vietnamese nationals, and we are in contact with the Vietnamese government.”
He said police think they have traced the relatives of some of the dead.
Vietnam’s embassy in London said it was “deeply saddened” at the news and sent “heartfelt condolences” to the victims’ families.
“Specific identities of the victims still need to be identified and confirmed by the relevant authorities of Vietnam and U.K.,” it said in a statement.
British police have charged 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, from Northern Ireland, with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. They say he drove the cab of the truck to Purfleet, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Another man was arrested Friday in Ireland, and two others in Vietnam.
Two people suspected of organizing a people-smuggling operation in Vietnam were arrested in Ha Tinh province following reports from 10 families there of missing relatives, VTV television reported.
Col. Nguyen Tien Nam, deputy chief of Ha Tinh provincial police, was quoted as saying the suspects were directly involved in the case in which people paid smugglers to be taken to England and are now feared to be among the bodies found in the container.
Police said the suspects have been organizing people smuggling in the area for several years.
In Ireland, a 22-year-old man was arrested on a British warrant. Essex Police said they had started extradition proceedings to bring him to the U.K. to face charges of manslaughter.
A spokesman for the Dublin High Court said Eamonn Harrison, of Newry in Northern Ireland, appeared in court Friday. He was ordered detained until a hearing on Nov. 11.
British officials have stepped up patrols in Purfleet and announced an agreement with Belgium to allow more British immigration officers to be based in Zeebrugge.
British police on Friday asked two other suspects, Northern Irish brothers Ronan and Christopher Hughes, to turn themselves in.
Police say they have already spoke to Ronan Hughes by telephone but want to talk to the two in person.
Jill Lawless in London and Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam in contributed to this report.