Criminal gang face jail for attempting to smuggle 69 Albanians into UK

Five people smugglers from Eastern Europe are due to be sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex.

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Five members of an organised criminal gang face jail for attempting to smuggle 69 Albanians into the UK.

The London based gang are due to be sentenced on Tuesday at Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex. The men, all from Eastern Europe, had bought the dilapidated trawler ‘Svanic’ for 20,000 euros in Latvia.

The 30-meter trawler was intercepted on 17 November last year, as it headed towards Great Yarmouth from the Belgian port of Ostend.

When Border Force and National Crime Agency Officers inspected the boat they found the 69 illegal immigrants crammed into the hold.

Among them was a convicted murderer and a serious drugs offender.UK authorities had been alerted to suspicions about the vessel, when it ran aground off Sweden a fortnight before the smuggling trip.

The vessel ran aground for a second time before finally heading to Belgium and collecting its illegal cargo. The National Crime Agency said the fishing boat, built 60 years ago, had undergone a crude conversion to carry passengers.

Prosecutors said those onboard were in “real danger” as a later inspection of the Svanic “displayed a multitude of faults.The vessel’s lifeboat had not been inspected in over 6 years and was only capable of carrying 20 people.

The conditions below deck were filthy and cramped and the boat also only carried 20 life jackets.Latvian national Aleksandrs Gulpe, 44 and 56-year-old Ukrainian national Igor Kosyi were both found guilty of conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Both men were crew members, who were arrested when the Svanic was taken to the port of Harwich in the early hours of 18 November 2020.

Kfir Ivgi, 39, from Finchley in north London and Sergejs Kuliss, 32, from east London were also both found guilty.

Another UK based organiser, Arturas Jusas, 35, from south London, admitted conspiring to assist unlawful immigration at an earlier hearing.

Earlier in the trial, jurors were played a recording from a mobile phone message where Jusas said: “We’re going to bring every week 50 people, yes, we need to invest now. 40,000 if you want, 20 you, 20 me. From first trip we’re going to get the money back.”

UK authorities said the gang were charging passengers around £15,000 each for making the trip. The National Crime Agency’s director of investigations, Nikki Holland said: “There is no stronger example of how Organised criminals are prepared to risk the lives of the people they smuggle for profit.“

The Svanic was in an appalling condition and in no fit state to make the perilous journey from Belgium to the UK.

“Had it got into trouble, the consequences could have been fatal as there was only one lifeboat and 20 life jackets.” Almost 28,000 people have arrived illegally into the UK this year, on small boats across the English Channel.

But while focus has been on that growing crisis, organised criminal gangs have continued to expand their operations, looking for other routes into the UK.

The commandeering of fishing boats like the Svanic to land illegal immigrants further up the coast, and in rougher weather, is now becoming increasingly common.