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‘I can’t breathe:’ Vietnamese woman’s text sparks fears she is among those who died in Essex truck container

CNN Exclusive

Fears are growing that Vietnamese nationals are among the 39 people found dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer at an industrial park in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday.

A Vietnamese government source told CNN the government has been contacted by a father who thinks his daughter, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, may be one of the victims.

The father sent an emergency request to the local authority in Ha Tinh province, about 200 miles south of Hanoi, reporting Pham missing after she left for the UK on October 3, traveling via China and France.

Pham sent text messages to her mother, according Hoa Nghiem, a coordinator with Hanoi’s Human Rights Space, who has been in touch with a family representative. Pham said she could not breathe in what is believed to be her last text to her mother, according to a screenshot shared by Nghiem.

Vietnam’s embassy in London has been working with British authorities after receiving requests Friday “from some Vietnamese families asking for the Embassy’s help” in finding out whether their family members were among the victims, the embassy wrote in a statement.

Essex police initially reported they believed that all the victims were Chinese nationals, but said Friday that “it is now a developing picture.” They declined to comment when asked by CNN whether Vietnamese nationals were among the victims.

“The force will not be commenting on any speculation about the nationalities of those who have tragically lost their lives,” the deputy chief constable from Essex police, Pippa Mills, said in a televised statement on Friday.

“I strongly urge journalists and people on social media not to speculate about the identities of those involved or the circumstances surrounding this investigation,” she added.

‘I can’t breathe’

Pham’s text messages were sent at 4.28 a.m. on Wednesday, Vietnamese time, which would have been 10.28 p.m. on Tuesday, UK time — when the trailer was in transit to the English port of Purfleet, according to Maritime tables seen by CNN.

The text said: “I’m sorry Dad and Mom. The way I went overseas was not successful. Mom, I love Dad and you so much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe. Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam. Mom, I am so sorry, Mom.”

The BBC reported Friday it spoke with Pham’s family members, who said they had not heard from Pham since that text, adding that they paid £30,000 ($38,000) for her to be smuggled into Britain.

In a Facebook group, Pham’s brother sent a message imploring others to provide information on his sister’s whereabouts.

“On Oct 3, my sister headed from Ha Tinh province to Hanoi to work on procedures to fly to China, some days later she flew to France then to UK,” Pham Manh Cuong wrote.

“Some days ago she was captured by British police and police sent her back to France, and she came back to UK. I got the info that she’s dead now. So I post this message here asking for your help if you have any info about her.”

Arrests continue

Three more people were arrested Friday as the investigation went into its third day.

They include a 48-year-old man in Northern Ireland, who was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and of conspiracy to traffic people in connection to the investigation.

A man and a woman, both 38 and from Warrington in northern England, were arrested on suspicion of trafficking and manslaughter, according to Essex Police.

The 25-year-old Northern Irish truck driver, who was arrested Wednesday, remained in custody on suspicion of murder, police added.

On Friday, Cobelfret Ferries confirmed to CNN that one of their ferries transported the trailer but refused to detail which one. CNN ascertained on Friday that the ferry that transported the trailer is called the Clementine.

The trailer was shipped out of Zeebrugge in Belgium on Tuesday afternoon, according to Belgian prosecutors, who have opened a human trafficking investigation.

The trailer arrived in the UK shortly after 12:30 a.m. GMT on Wednesday, around an hour before the bodies were discovered by authorities at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, according to Essex police.

On Friday afternoon, more of the victims’ bodies were transported from the trailer to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for post-mortem examinations, according to Britain’s PA news agency.

“Formal identification processes will take place as well as the examinations to establish the causes of their deaths,” Mills, the deputy chief constable from Essex police, told reporters.

“This process is likely to be a lengthy one but it is crucial and we are working with her majesty’s coroner to ensure the dignity of the victims and the respect for their loved ones is at the forefront of our investigation.”

This week’s investigation is a painful reminder of the tragic events in 2000, when 58 Chinese migrants were found dead in a lorry in Dover.

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