Acargo ship headed from the Netherlands to England was turned back on Tuesday night when 25 stowaways were reportedly discovered on board in a refrigerated container.
Dutch broadcaster the NOS reported that at least 20 ambulances, and two Red Cross aid teams were sent to Vlaardingen, near Rotterdam. The Britannia Seaways vessel was heading for Felixstowe in Suffolk.
There were reportedly no dead bodies discovered, the stowaways were given medical help and two were taken to hospital, although not in a critical state.
NOS reporter Robert Bas, who was at the scene, said that they appeared to be a group of men, apparently “of Middle Eastern origin”. Some had silver survival jackets on as they left the vessel.
Mirjam Boers, a spokeswoman for Rotterdam police told the RTL broadcaster: “The ship was a couple of kilometres into its journey when the crew discovered that there were stowaways on board. There were around 25 people. The ship turned back, and they are now all ashore, and the top priority is to find out how they are doing medically.
“Twenty ambulances are here, and we are caring for them. They were discovered in a refrigerated container and we are most concerned with how they are doing. This is about people’s lives.”
She could not confirm whether or not a child was among the stowaways, or whether they apparently got on board the container in Vlaardingen or before then.
Although there are regular reports of potential stowaways being discovered trying to board lorries and ferries to the UK in Dutch media – and several court cases against drivers for people trafficking – the dramatic turn-around and rescue operation dominated Dutch headlines.
It comes in the wake of the discovery of 39 dead Vietnamese migrants in a refrigerated lorry container in Essex last month, after it arrived on a ferry from Belgium.
Dutch emergency services – including fire engines and police cars – were dispatched en masse to the port town of Vlaardingen just after 7pm, and the NOS reported that the police remained on board the vessel in search of other potential stowaways, using sniffer dogs.