Gang that tried to make millions smuggling 69 Albanians jailed for over 35 years
Four men who tried to make millions by smuggling 69 Albanian migrants, including two pregnant women, to Britain on a converted fishing boat have been jailed for a total of more than 35 years.
The converted 100ft trawler ‘Svanic’, built almost 60 years ago, was intercepted off the Norfolk coast on November 17 last year after leaving the Ostend region of Belgium, heading of Great Yarmouth.
A single trip was worth more than £1million for the criminals involved, and trips had to take place at least once a week, Chelmsford Crown Court has been told.
But the crew came to the attention of authorities, first off the Swedish coast where the boat ran aground, then in the UK where it was intercepted with 69 Albanian migrants on board.
The ship, which had 20 life jackets on board for 72 people, was escorted into Harwich International Port and the three crew members were arrested by the National Crime Agency on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.
NCA investigators seized a laptop computer from the ship, which helped them identify the UK-based gang who had masterminded the bombing.
The 69 migrants were handed over to Immigration Enforcement.
Five men were found guilty of conspiring to assist illegal immigration, Arturas Jusas, 35, of Lambeth, admitted the offence, and four others were found guilty after a trial.
The converted 100ft trawler ‘Svanic’, built almost 60 years ago, was intercepted off the Norfolk coast on November 17 last year after leaving the Ostend region of Belgium, heading from Great Yarmouth
Five men have been found guilty of conspiracy to aid illegal immigration, with Arturas Jusas, 35 (pictured being arrested), admitting the offense
Jusas, along with Kfir Ivgi, 39, left, and Sergejs Kuliss, right, from Newham, were described by prosecutors as ‘UK-based organisers’.
Latvian national Aleksandrs Gulpe, left, and 57-year-old Ukrainian national Igor Kosyi, right, were both described by prosecutors as crew members.
Jusas, along with Kfir Ivgi, 39, from Finchley, and Sergejs Kuliss, 32, from Newham, were described by prosecutors as “UK-based organisers”.
Jusas was imprisoned for nine years and nine months, Ivgi for 10 years and Kuliss for nine years.
Latvian national Aleksandrs Gulpe, 44, and Ukrainian national Igor Kosyi, 57, 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 but Gulpe is due for sentencing at a later date as he was self-isolating with Covid symptoms.
A sixth defendant, Ukrainian national Volodymyr Mykhailov, 49, who was arrested by the court when the boat reached land, was cleared.
Judge David Turner QC, who handed down the sentence, said the fishing vessel had been “made to appear harmless in the context of the North Sea”.
He described the conditions on board as “terrifying”, adding that the organizers had “clearly stopped the migrants and insisted that they board in Ostend (in Belgium) – weapons, it seems, were produced by some organizers”.
He told the defendants: “It was organized crime. Your goal was gain and profit, you care little for safety and well-being.
Charlene Sumnall, prosecuting, said the trawler was from Latvia and was “chosen for the simple reason that it was cheap”.
“She had been sitting rotting in a drydock for several years,” she said. “This trip alone would bring in over a million pounds for those involved in the crime.
“It was a very commercial enterprise. The precious cargo being the 69 souls, including two pregnant women, who were on board the seaworthy ship.
A clip of his arrest emerged after four others were found guilty of conspiring to smuggle 69 Albanian migrants into the UK on a converted fishing boat
The nearly 30m long trawler (pictured), called the Svanic, was intercepted by UK Border Force vessels in the North Sea late on November 17 last year and escorted to Harwich in Essex.
Ms Sumnall said the business was ‘much more sophisticated than small boat crossings, dinghies and the like’ and that criminals were ‘using the squalid and dangerous conditions aboard the Svanic to line their pockets’.
She said it was “not a doomed trip”, adding: “It was planned to have at least weekly trips, 50 people at a time”.
But the boat was intercepted by UK Border Force ships in the North Sea late on November 17 last year while sailing from the Ostend region of Belgium to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.
He was escorted to Harwich in Essex.
There were 20 life jackets on board for 72 people, according to an earlier lawsuit.
Martin Rutherford QC, for Ivgi, said the Svanic “was stranded in Sweden and elsewhere due to its navigation which came to the attention of authorities in Sweden and the UK”.
“Whatever the conspirators were hoping for in this case, it was in fact very likely that there would be no second trip due to jurisdiction or otherwise,” he said.
Narita Bahra QC, for Jusas, said “none of the migrants were harmed in any way”.
Jeremy Lynn, for Kuliss, said the ship was “basically seaworthy”, but there were “a few incidents which were the fault of the clumsy crew”.
NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said: “There is no stronger example of how organized criminals are willing to risk the lives of the people they smuggle to criminals. profit-making purposes.”
The boat, built almost 60 years ago, was heading for Great Yarmouth in Norfolk after leaving the Ostend region of Belgium.
“The Svanic was in appalling condition and in no condition to make the perilous journey from Belgium to the UK. Had he gotten into trouble, the consequences could have been fatal as there was only one lifeboat and 21 life jackets.
“The dangers would not have crossed the minds of these men, whose only motive was to line their pockets. They planned to use this death trap again and again.
“Cases like these strengthen our resolve to crack down on the organized criminals behind human trafficking, who ply their trade on exploitation and hardship.”
David Fairclough, Deputy Director, Immigration Enforcement Criminal Investigation, said: ‘These callous criminals had big plans to orchestrate a lucrative criminal operation at the expense of people’s safety using an unseaworthy vessel with only 20 life jackets on board.
“It is sickening that criminal gangs like this have no regard for the value of human life, seeing them only as a way to make money.” As recent tragic events show, these journeys are pointless, perilous and unfortunately sometimes fatal.
“Through the culmination of the efforts of the Home Office and the NCA, we have put an end to the breaks of this ruthless criminal gang, and they will now receive the justice they deserve.”