Four men jailed for attempting to smuggle 69 migrants into UK on converted fishing boat

A single trip could bring in more than £1m

The trawler carrying the migrants was intercepted by UK Border Force vessels in the North Sea late on November 17 last year. PA

Four men have been jailed for trying to smuggle 69 people, including two pregnant women, into the UK on a converted fishing boat.

On a single trip, the criminals stood to make more than £1 million ($1.33m) and trips were planned to happen at least weekly, Chelmsford Crown Court was told.

But the crew caught the attention of authorities, first off the coast of Sweden where the boat ran aground and later in the UK where it was intercepted with 69 Albanian migrants on board.

Judge David Turner said the fishing vessel had been “made to look innocuous in a North Sea context”.

He described conditions on board as “terrifying”, and added that organisers had “plainly rounded up migrants and insisted they board in Ostend [Belgium] — weapons it seems were produced by some of the organisers”.

He told the accused: “This was organised crime.

“Your aim was gain and profit, you cared little for safety and welfare.”

Prosecutor Charlene Sumnall said the near 30-metre-long trawler was sourced from Latvia and had been “chosen for the very reason that she was cheap”.

“She had been sat rotting in a dry dock for a number of years,” she said.

“This was very much a commercial enterprise.

“The valuable cargo being the 69 souls, including two pregnant women, who were on board the unseaworthy vessel.”

Ms Sumnall said the venture was “far more sophisticated than small boat crossings, dinghies and the like” and that criminals were “using the squalid and dangerous conditions on board the [vessel] to line their own pockets”.

She said it was “not a voyage doomed to fail”, and added: “There were planned to be at least weekly trips, 50 people at a time.”

But the boat, built almost 60 years ago, was intercepted by UK Border Force vessels in the North Sea late on November 17 last year as it sailed from Ostend towards Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.

It was escorted into Harwich in Essex.

There were 20 life jackets on board for 72 people, an earlier trial was told.

Five men have been convicted of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration, with 35-year-old Arturas Jusas, of Wandsworth Road, Lambeth, admitting the offence, and four others found guilty after a trial.

Kfir Ivgi of Corrigan Close, Finchley, Sergejs Kuliss of Albert Basin Way, Newham, and Jusas were described by prosecutors as the “UK-based organisers”.

Jusas was jailed for nine years and nine months, Ivgi for 10 years and Kuliss for nine years.

Latvian citizen Aleksandrs Gulpe and Ukrainian citizen Igor Kosyi, both described by prosecutors as crew members, were arrested when the boat reached land in the early hours of November 18.

Kosyi was jailed for seven years.

Gulpe is due to be sentenced at a later date as he was isolating with Covid-19 symptoms.

Martin Rutherford QC, for Ivgi, said the vessel “ran aground in Sweden and elsewhere due to her navigation that caught the attention of authorities both in Sweden and the UK”.

“Whatever the conspirators hoped for in this case, it in fact was highly likely there wasn’t going to be a second trip due to the competence or otherwise,” he said.

Narita Bahra QC, for Jusas, said “none of the migrants were injured in any way”.

Jeremy Lynn, for Kuliss, said the vessel was “fundamentally seaworthy” but there were “some mishaps that were the fault of the clumsy crew”.

A sixth accused, Ukrainian citizen Volodymyr Mykhailov, who the court heard was arrested when the boat reached land, was cleared of the charge.

Updated: December 21st 2021, 7:01 PM