Four guilty over people-smuggling plot to bring 69 illegal immigrants to UK

Juliet Bremner reports on the four people-smugglers who were caught attempting to bring 69 Albanians into the UK

Four men have been found guilty of people-smuggling after a dilapidated fishing boat carrying 69 Albanian migrants was intercepted off the coast of the UK.

They used a crudely-converted 60-year-old fishing vessel The Svanic to make the attempted crossing from Ostend in Belgium on 17 November 2020 - and had plans to bring 50 people a week into the country.

The Svanic was intercepted off the Norfolk coast by Border Force boats and escorted into Harwich international port in an operation involving the National Crime Agency, Border Force, HM Coastguard, Immigration Enforcement and Essex Police.

It was found to have three crew members and just 21 lifejackets for the total of 72 people on board.

  • Watch: Footage taken by migrants on board the vessel:

Following a two-month trial at Chelmsford Crown Court, four men were found guilty of facilitating illegal immigration. They were Igor Kosyi, aged 56 and from Ukraine, and Aleksandrs Gulpe, 44 and from Latvia, who were part of the onboard crew, and Kfir Ivgi, aged 39 and of Finchley, and Sergejs Kuliss, 32, of Newham in London, who were UK-based organisers.

A fifth man, Arturas Jusas, aged 35 and of Lambeth, had pleaded guilty already to conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Gang members (Top L-R) Arturas Jusas (pleaded guilty in August), Kfir Ivgi, (Bottom L-R) Igor Kosyi, Aleksandrs Gulpe, Sergejs Kuliss. Credit: NCA

Volodymyr Mykhailov, a Ukrainian engineer who was on board the vessel, was found not guilty at trial.

The dozens of people packed on board can clearly be seen - though only 21 lifejackets were on board Credit: National Crime Agency

'They were just cargo for them to move'

The court heard that the migrants had faced a 14-hour journey to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk on the 30-metre vessel, and that the voyage was being used as a test run for a lucrative new route for people-smugglers.

During the trial, jurors were played audio messages between two of the smugglers, in which they laid out plans to bring "every week 50 people".

One of the men asked for an investment of £40,000 to make the crossing happen, claiming "from the first trip, we're going to get the money back".

Migrants were charged an estimated £15,000 per person - four times more than a Channel dinghy crossing.

Chris Farrimond, deputy director of investigations for the National Crime Agency, said: "The criminal group was only interested in profiteering. They were not interested in the welfare of the migrants.

"They were just cargo for them to move from A to B make as much money as possible, and not worry too much about the safety conditions."

Videos taken on board by the migrants show the poor conditions on the boat - which included just one life raft, big enough for 20 people, which had not been serviced for six years.

  • Watch: People in the Svanic fishing vessel during its voyage:

Mr Farrimond added: "It was a really risky venture - it was rough conditions at sea. So had they got into trouble, there would have been real difficulties for them.

"It was horrible conditions... We had reports from the individuals on board saying it was getting unbearably hot. It couldn't have been nice for them."

The four men will be sentenced at a later date.