Wednesday 11 December 2019

'A very traumatic experience for all concerned' - gardaí continue investigation after 16 men found alive in ferry truck

  • Gardai and paramedics at Rosslare Europort as ferry arrives
  • Discovery brought to attention of captain and crew
  • Medical assistance has been offered
  • Taoiseach says government response will be 'humanitarian'
Emergency personnel at Rosslare Europort in Co Wexford, board the Stena Line ferry after 16 people were discovered in a sealed trailer on the ship sailing from France. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Emergency personnel at Rosslare Europort in Co Wexford, board the Stena Line ferry after 16 people were discovered in a sealed trailer on the ship sailing from France. Niall Carson/PA Wire

Ralph Riegel, Fiona Dillon and Hugh O'Connell

Gardaí are attempting to establish if one of the 16 men aboard the articulated truck seized at Rosslare is a juvenile.

Superintendent James Doyle of Wexford Garda Station said that all sixteen males were medically assessed by doctors and ambulance personnel while on the ferry today and were assessed to be in general good health.

Gardaí detained the articulated truck after 16 people were discovered alive in the back of it on a ferry from France bound for Ireland.

Superintendent Doyle said that the men are Middle Eastern, and while it is understood that they are adults, gardai have yet to confirm whether one male may be a juvenile.

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"Garda immigration officers attached to Wexford Garda Station, supported by the Garda National Immigration Bureau are now processing these males under immigration legislation.

"After our initial enquiries, they will be transferred to a reception centre organised by the Reception and Integration Agency where they will be provided for all their welfare concerns," Superintendent Doyle said.

"This has been a very traumatic experience for all the males concerned and they are being treated with sympathy and compassion," he said.

"The articulated lorry was photographed on the ferry and has now been removed to a secure location for further forensic examination.

"The articulated lorry tractor and trailer are owned by a local Irish based company. The owners are co operating fully with the investigation. The driver is a male believed to be in his 50s, and he is also a long time employee of the company and he is again assisting us with our enquiries," he said.

He said that gardai will continue their investigations into all the circumstances of this incident. He said that it is very difficult to say how long the men were in the container, but possibly five to ten hours.

"They were in excellent condition. They were medically assessed and they were all proved to be medically sound, and they were in good spirits and good health."

They were discovered by staff who generally patrol the lower deck, who possibly heard noises coming from the trailer and they summoned the driver.

The men do have some broken English and are believed to be aged between 20 and 35.

However, Superintendent Doyle said he was not aware that they were banging to get out, which had been reported earlier. "That is to be confirmed."

At some point later this evening they will be taken to a reception area in Dublin where they will be cared for in terms of accommodation and food.

Gardaí and paramedics were at Rosslare Europort in Wexford as the Stena ferry docked shortly after 2.30pm today.

The discovery was brought to the attention of the ferry captain and the ship's crew.

It is understood a ferry crew member was conducting a routine check when they became aware of the people in the rear of one vehicle container.

It was earlier reported that the man went to inspect noise coming from a container on a freight deck and the people inside were discovered.

All those found were immediately brought to the lobby of the ship and provided with hot food and drinks.

Precautionary medical assistance was also offered.

None were reported to have any serious health issues though it is understood a number had not eaten for several days and had complained of cold.

Several were treated for suspected hypothermia.

Local councillor Ger Carthy, who is an advanced paramedic, was among the team waiting in Rosslare this afternoon when the boat docked, to ascertain the condition of the men on board.

“The 16 men in question were in the trucker’s lounge in good spirits, between the ages of possibly 18 and 40,” he told Independent.ie.

“Fortunately spot checks by the staff at Stena Line discovered banging to a trailer, and were able to free the 16men to safety.”

The non-party councillor said that the group from the Middle East could have been travelling for up to 30 days.

He said they were “being processed by the immigration service.”

“It is concerning, very much so for the people who find themselves in that situation. They have to leave their shores to come to our shores for a better life, from war-torn countries.”

He added we also have to appropriately request that French shores are properly policed and checked for trailers who come to our shores, for safety reasons, pointing out that being in a fridge for hours can put lives at risk.

He said that the men did not say anything to him about the circumstances surrounding how they ended up there.

But he added that they were “very fit young men”.

He said around 15 medical staff, including paramedics and doctors were on hand to assess the men. A similar number of gardai were present.

“Really what happened was we brought the hospital to the port itself, as opposed to bringing the patients to the hospital.”

“They will be processed through immigration and brought to a service centre in Dublin, subject to being healthy,” he added.

Both the French and Irish authorities were notified of the discovery.

However, the ferry had completed more than half of its scheduled journey and the decision was made for it to continue to its final destination at Rosslare.

Gardaí are now investigating all the circumstances of the incident and have detained the truck.

It is believed all 16 want to claim refugee status in Ireland.

Gardaí will be assisted by a number of interpreters in Rosslare.

The lorry had completed a journey from Belgium across France before waiting in a ferry assembly area for boarding a ship bound for Ireland.

A number of French and Belgian ports have large migrant populations in their vicinity.

The French have stepped up security at ports amid a surge of attempted boardings of trucks by migrants desperate to get to the UK.

Stena Line confirmed the 16 individuals were discovered by one of their ferry crew.

The discovery was made as part of a routine inspection of the freight deck of the vessel.

“All the individuals are reported to be in good health and have been moved to a private passenger lounge on the ship where their wellbeing is the focus of our employees,” the ferry company confirmed in a statement.

“Stena Line has alerted security and immigration officials in Rosslare so the necessary arrangements can be made for the group on the vessel’s arrival in Rosslare.”

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was "extremely concerned" to learn of another incident of people being found in a sealed lorry container, on this occasion on board a ferry.

"There is an active garda investigation under way and I would appeal to anyone with any information on these nefarious activities to come forward. I welcome the statement issued by An Garda Siochana earlier today," he said.

"The persons found in the lorry container are now being cared for by State services. As part of that care, they will receive initial medical assessments."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the government's response to the discovery of 16 people alive in the back of a truck at Rosslare Europort will be "humanitarian".

Speaking in Zagreb on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said he had not got the detail of what had happened. However, he added: "I am aware that about 16 or 17 people have been found on a ferry and a truck that is heading for Rosslare. Of course our initial response will be humanitarian one to make sure that those people are well and that their health is good.

"After that of course there will need to be a response that involves the police, involving the gardaí, because as you know human trafficking is illegal and then we'll need to see what happens with the people who come ashore. They may wish to claim asylum, which they are entitled to do, or they may wish to be returned to the safe country from which they came.

"But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. But the initial response will of course be a humanitarian one to make sure they are alive and in good health and I understand that they are."

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