Illegal immigrants plunged to deaths near Harwich after failed smuggle bid

The search and rescue operation off the coast of Felixstowe.

The search and rescue operation off the coast of Felixstowe. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Two illegal immigrants plunged to their deaths in north-east Essex after desperately jumping from a ship in an attempt to swim to shore after a failed attempt to smuggle themselves in to the UK, an inquest has heard.

A major search involving 21 vessels and two helicopters was launched after Artur Doda, 24, and Leonard Isufaj, 27, both from Tirana, Albania, were seen jumping from one of the world’s largest ferries, the Stena Britannica, about 500 metres (1,600ft) off Harwich at about 9.50am on February 26 last year.

They had been found in the back of a lorry along with 13 others of mixed nationalities after it was randomly selected for X-ray as it entered the port six hours earlier.

It is thought they were part of a group which had broken into the vehicle without the driver’s knowledge as part of an organised people smuggling operation.

An inquest in Chelmsford today heard that Mr Doda was sliced to death by the “machete-like” motion of the ship’s propeller and Mr Isufaj drowned after they were both sucked underwater almost immediately after jumping over the side, ten minutes into the journey back to the Hook of Holland.

Inspector Christopher Willis, from Essex Police, said the sea would have appeared deceptively calm, instilling a false belief that it would be possible to swim to shore. But even if they had not been sucked under the ship, they were unlikely to have survived fierce competing tides.

“To swim to land with those tides and the water temperature would have been nigh-on impossible - an Olympic swimmer would have struggled,” he added.

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Speaking after the hearing, Mr Isufaj’s cousin, Besnik Vata, 33, from north London, said the case highlighted the plight of many other immigrants

He added: “They had come to the UK for better a life and it seems they were determined to stay.

“We heard that they weren’t escorted on board the ship so there was always a risk this would happen - if I was in that position I would have done the same.

“There are lots of people in the same situation and they are just desperate.

“I think there should be better security to stop this happening because they’re not just immigrants, they are people too.”

Border Agency official Giles Young said there was no policy of escorting deportees in place, adding: “It’s not a case of being marched on in handcuffs.

“Neither man offered any physical or verbal resistance to be placed onto the vessel.”

Mr Willis said a tide heading out to sea at about four knots met another northerly tide at about the point where the men jumped. This, combined with a sea temperature of about 7C, meant the conditions were virtually unsurvivable.

“It may have been that the were used to warmer and less tidal waters in their home country and this gave them a false sense of security that they could make it,” he added.

Mr Isufaj’s body was found on March 20 on Felixstowe beach while Mr Doda was found floating in the water off Essex on April 29.

Coroner Eleanor McGann recorded a conclusion that both men died accidental deaths.

She said: “On face value it is easy to conceive of a situation where they jumped off the ferry in their desperation intending to drown, but there is no evidence of that.

“The evidence suggests they were intending to swim back to England, something that they could see was tantalisingly close to them.

“In fact they did not know about the effect of a moving ship on somebody who jumps over the side, and they were sucked underneath.”

Mrs McGann said it was difficult to make recommendations to the Government based on this case.

“This is all part of a bigger picture on immigration and how it’s handled, and nothing I could say could help prevent such sad deaths in future,” she added.