Updated at 9 a.m. ET
British police say 39 bodies were discovered early Wednesday morning in a truck container in southeastern England. The driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
In a statement, Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner of Essex Police said, “We are in the process of identifying the victims, however I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process.”
Police believe the truck is from Bulgaria, a member of the European Union, and that it entered the U.K. on Saturday through the Welsh ferry port of Holyhead. The truck was found in the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, a town that sits along the Thames River east of London.
The police were called to the scene by medical personnel at 1:40 a.m. (8:40 p.m. ET) Wednesday. According to the police statement, 38 of the bodies appear to be adults and one appears to be a teenager. No further details were given.
“This is an absolute tragedy and very sad day for Essex Police and the local community,” Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said, as the authorities asked anyone with information about the truck to come forward.
As they work to identify the dead, investigators have also set up an online portal for members of the public to report missing persons who may have been in the container.
NPR’s Frank Langfitt in London reports for our Newscast unit:
“The United Kingdom remains an attractive destination for migrants. Earlier this week, the U.K. border force picked up a group of 13 men, women and children trying to cross the English Channel in a small boat.”
The U.K.’s Road Haulage Association released a statement about the shocking discovery, with its chief executive Richard Burnett saying, “Our thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives, but whatever the circumstances of this tragedy it highlights the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries.”
Burnett says the container seems to be a refrigerated unit, adding that conditions inside would be both “horrendous” and life-threatening if the cooling elements were turned on with people inside, according to local news outlet EssexLive.