Three charged with people smuggling after migrant boat seized near Suffolk coast

Border Force cutters Searcher and Vigilant intercepted the vessel, a 30-metre fishing boat Picture:

Border Force cutters Searcher and Vigilant intercepted the vessel, a 30-metre fishing boat Picture: NCA - Credit: NCA

Three men have been charged with people smuggling offences after a fishing boat containing 69 migrants was intercepted off the coast.

In total, UK law enforcement agencies arrested all 72 people on board a 30m fishing vessel sailing from the Ostend area of Belgium on Wednesday morning.

Three crew members were arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration and appeared at Colchester Magistrates’ Court this afternoon.

Igor Kosyi, 56, and Volodymyr Mykhailov, 48, both from Ukraine, and Aleksandrs Gulpe, 43, from Latvia, have been remanded in custody.

Border Force cutters intercepted the boat off Great Yarmouth and took it under control late on Tuesday, before escorting the vessel into Harwich harbour in the early hours of the following morning.

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Seven Albanian nationals also appeared before Suffolk Magistrates’ Court in Ipswich on Thursday, charged with knowingly entered the United Kingdom without leave, under the Immigration Act 1971.

Ledjan Lleshi, 29, Eneert Vezi, 29, Ergi Gremi, 23, Erest Gjika, 19, and Kristian Paplekaj, 27, all appeared on video link from Martlesham Heath police investigation centre and entered guilty pleas to the charge.

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Prosecutor Colette Harper said: “The vessel was attempting to enter the UK unnoticed when it was intercepted.”

She said the other defendants were due to appear at other courts across the region on the same day.

David Allan, representing the five as duty solicitor, said all accepted intending to enter the country unlawfully, without an appropriate visa, due to “economic and financial circumstances resulting in fairly extreme hardship”.

He said none of the men were able to pay any financial penalty or undertake any form of community order, adding: “In reality, whatever sentence you impose, upon release, they will be detained by immigration services in any event.

“I urge you to take a pragmatic view and impose the minimum sentence possible to avoid overburdening the prison service.”

All five men were sentenced to eight-week custodial sentences.

Two other men, aged 35 and 27, represented by Imran Rashid, entered no pleas to the charge, pending referrals to the national mechanism for identifying victims of modern slavery.

Both were released on bail to an immigration facility until a hearing on January 19.

The other 62 people on board, all Albanian nationals, were arrested on suspicion of offences under the Immigration Act and are now being dealt with by Immigration Enforcement officers, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

The operation at Harwich was assisted by Essex Police.

Chris Farrimond, NCA deputy director of investigations, said: “This was clearly a significant incident and a bold attempt to breach the UK’s border controls by organised criminals.

“Our investigation into this attempt continues, and I’d like to thank Essex Police, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement for all they did and their ongoing support.

“Working with our partners we are determined to do all we can to disrupt and dismantle people smuggling networks, and prevent them from exploiting migrants for profit.

“Our aim is to target those who cause harm, safeguard those who are most vulnerable while securing the UK’s borders.”

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