LONDON — British police say they believe all 39 people found dead in a container truck in southeast England last week were Vietnamese nationals.
Detectives initially said the victims discovered near the port of Purfleet were from China.
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.
A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Another man was arrested Friday in Ireland, and two others in Vietnam.
Police in Vietnam and Ireland made three new arrests Friday in the sprawling investigation.
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 in connection with the Oct. 23 discovery of the bodies in what appears to have been a botched people-smuggling operation. Essex police in Britain, who issued the European Arrest Warrant on which he was arrested, 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.
The investigation is gathering speed, but authorities have thus far been unable to identify the victims or say exactly where they came from.
Police initially said the victims were from China, but the focus shifted to Vietnam when families there reported that they had not heard from loved ones who were in transit at the time.
In Britain, police have charged 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, also from Northern Ireland, with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. They say he drove the cab of the truck to an English port, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
British officials have stepped up patrols in Purfleet, the English port where the container came in by ferry. They have announced an agreement with Belgium to allow more British immigration officers to be based in Zeebrugge.
British police on Friday asked two other suspects, Ronan and Christopher Hughes, to turn themselves in.
Police say they have already spoken to Ronan Hughes by telephone but want to talk to the two in person.