People-smugglers jailed over plot to bring 69 migrants to UK from Belgium

Svanic people smuggling verdict Copyright National Crime Agency
The 69 migrants were found on board the Svanic, which was intercepted off the Norfolk coast Credit: National Crime Agency

Four men who tried to smuggle 69 Albanian migrants - including two pregnant women - into the UK in a dilapidated fishing boat have been jailed for up to 10 years each.

The single trip stood to make more than £1m for the criminals involved, 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 as it headed towards Great Yarmouth.

The nearly-60-year-old boat was intercepted by border officials on 17 November last year with 69 Albanian migrants on board and escorted to Harwich, Essex.

There were just 20 lifejackets for a total of 72 people on board.

As he sentenced four of five men convicted of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration, Judge David Turner QC said the fishing vessel had been "made to look innocuous in a North Sea context" but described conditions on board as "terrifying".

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

Arturas Jusas, 35, of Wandsworth Road, Lambeth, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing and was jailed for nine years and nine months. Four others were found guilty following a trial.

Kfir Ivgi, 39, of Corrigan Close, Finchley, and 32-year-old Sergejs Kuliss, 32, of Albert Basin Way, Newham, along with Jusas, were described by prosecutors as "UK-based organisers".

Ivgi was jailed for 10 years and Kuliss for nine years.

Latvian national Aleksandrs Gulpe, 44, and 57-year-old Ukrainian national Igor Kosyi, both described by prosecutors as crew members, were arrested when the boat reached land in the early hours of 18 November 2020.

Kosyi was jailed for seven years while Gulpe is due to be sentenced at a later date as he was isolating with Covid symptoms.

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

Judge Turner said organisers had "plainly rounded up migrants and insisted they board in Ostend (in Belgium) - weapons, it seems, were produced by some of the organisers".

Charlene Sumnall, prosecuting, said the near 30m-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 one trip alone would garner those involved in the criminality over £1m.

"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."

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

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 Svanic to line their own pockets".

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

Martin Rutherford QC, for Ivgi, said the Svanic "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 defendant, Ukrainian national Volodymyr Mykhailov, 49, who the court heard was arrested when the boat reached land, was cleared of the charge.

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