TAKUA PA, Thailand - With the bodies of almost 400 victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami still unidentified a decade on, Thai police were holding out little hope of gleaning any new information from opening a cargo container packed with unclaimed personal items.
Watches, chunky gold necklaces with Buddhist amulets, an Egyptian souvenir coin purse, and a wad of US$1,800 (S$2,400) in cash were pulled from tattered cardboard boxes and police evidence bags stashed in the container that has not been opened since 2011.
The three metre by 12 metre container was passed to various Thai police agencies after the 2004 Boxing Day disaster that killed at least 226,000 people in 14 countries.
It was handed over to Takua Pa district police in southern Thailand in 2011.
But the Takua Pa police never looked inside until recently when, after requests from Reuters, they opened the container ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the Dec 26 tsunami when the items can, by official regulation, be put up for auction.
They initially believed the container held the belongings of unidentified victims, but found some items were identification cards and credit cards and could be claimed by relatives.
"I'm a bit surprised by the large number of valuables," Lieutenant Colonel Voravit Yamaree from Takua Pa district said as his team surveyed the items on a long, white table.
"I think back then everyone was so busy focusing on identifying the corpses they may have forgotten about this."
The tsunami left 5,395 dead and 2,932 missing in Thailand, including about 2,000 foreign tourists, when a wall of water several metres high ripped through resorts and fishing villages on the Andaman Sea coast in southern Thailand.
In the aftermath of the tsunami, forensics experts from 39 countries convened in Phang Nga, where about 80 per cent of the victims in Thailand perished, to identify the bodies.
The Thai Tsunami Victim Identification unit was considered one of the largest and most successful projects of its kind, putting names and faces to the thousands of tourists, Thais and migrant workers killed in the Boxing Day disaster.