The owner and driver of a lorry seized by police after 16 people were found in a sealed trailer on board a ferry are Irish, officers confirmed.
The Stena Line freight and passenger service arrived in Rosslare in Co Wexford on Thursday afternoon from Cherbourg in France.
The men were Middle Eastern, mainly aged between 20 and 35, and police are investigating possible immigration offences.
Senior officers said the men were all in good health when they were found and it was fortunate they were not dealing with a tragedy.
Garda Superintendent Jim Doyle said: “This has been a traumatic time for them and they are being treated with compassion.”
The group, one of whom may be a juvenile, was found by a ferry company employee conducting a routine patrol who heard noise coming from the trailer.
Two ambulances, doctors and police cars drove onto the ship’s vehicle deck shortly after it docked in south-east Ireland.
The articulated lorry was photographed and examined on the ferry and has now been removed to a secure location for further technical examination, police said.
It is owned by a local Irish-based company and the owners are “co-operating fully” with the ongoing investigation.
Gardai said the driver is a man aged in his 50s, resident of Ireland for over 25 years, and he is also co-operating fully with the ongoing investigation.
A large police and Immigration Bureau presence was visible around the port.
Supt Doyle said: “It is very fortunate that they were found and they were found alive and in good spirits.”
The men are all being processed under immigration law and will be taken to a centre in Dublin, the officer said.
The force said all the individuals received medical assessments after arrival at Rosslare, one of Ireland’s main sea ports for passengers and freight.
It added: “Garda Immigration Officers attached to Wexford Garda Station, supported by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) will carry out an assessment on the immigration status of all the persons.”
Ian Hampton, Stena Line’s chief people and communications officer, confirmed an employee discovered the people during a routine inspection shortly before 10am on Thursday.
The incident comes just days after a group of 25 people were found inside a refrigerated container on board a UK-bound ship just off the coast of the Netherlands.
Last month, 39 people were found dead inside a container in Essex which had arrived in the UK via a ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told broadcaster RTE: “Of course our initial response will be a humanitarian one, to make sure those people are well and that their health is good.
“After that of course there will need to be a response that involves the gardai, because as you know human trafficking is illegal, and we’ll need to see what happens with the people who come ashore.”
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said those found in the lorry container were being cared for by state services.