Fifth member of people smuggling gang caught off Norfolk coast jailed

The Svanic was seized in a major operation by law enforcement agencies

The Svanic was seized in a major operation by law enforcement agencies - Credit: National Crime Agency

The fifth member of a people smuggling gang has been jailed following their foiled attempt to bring 69 Albanian migrants into Great Yarmouth on a decrepit fishing boat.

Alexsandrs Gulpe was a crew member on the Svanic, a 30-metre converted trawler, which was intercepted off the town on November 17 2020.

The group had planned to bring in 50 migrants into the UK every week on the boat which was built nearly 60 years ago and had only one lifeboat for just 20 people.

Some of the Albanian migrants on board the Svanic

Some of the Albanian migrants on board the Svanic - Credit: National Crime Agency

The boat had set sail from Ostend in Belgium and was heading towards Great Yarmouth, where a fleet of cars was waiting for the 69 migrants.

It was then escorted into Harwich international port in an operation involving the National Crime Agency (NCA), Border Force, HM Coastguard, Immigration Enforcement and Essex Police. 

The NCA had been alerted to the vessel by the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC) in Lisbon after it received a report of suspicious activity from the Swedish authorities - who had to assist the Svanic after it ran aground 15 days prior. 

The vessel, which had been purchased in Latvia for around 20,000 euros in October 2020, was to run aground a second time before collecting the migrants in Belgium. 

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The three crew members – Igor Kosyi, aged 57, and Volodymyr Mykhailov, 49, both from Ukraine, and Gulpe, 44, from Latvia – were arrested by the NCA on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration. 

London group charged with attempting to smuggle people into Great Yarmouth

Igor Kosyi, 56, from Ukraine, was found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration. - Credit: National Crime Agency

NCA investigators seized a laptop from the vessel, which enabled them to identify the UK-based gang which had orchestrated the attempt.

The computer had been given to the crew by Latvian national Sergejs Kuliss, 32, of Albert Basin Way, Newham, London.

Phone evidence showed Kuliss was in Great Yarmouth on the night of the smuggling attempt - awaiting the arrival of the boat.

During the day Kuliss had been in contact with fellow conspirators Lithuanian national Arturas Jusas, 35, living in Lambeth, and Israeli national Kfir Ivgi, 39, from Finchley.

The trio had scoped out potential landing sites for the vessel, which had only 21 lifejackets on board, eventually settling on Great Yarmouth.

London group found guilty of attempted people smuggling into Great Yarmouth

Kfir Ivgi, 39, an Israeli national living in Finchley, London, was found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration - Credit: National Crime Agency

Messages found on their phones showed the three men spent weeks discussing their plans to invest in a boat for the purpose of smuggling people.

Jusas, Ivgi and Kuliss were arrested during a series of NCA raids in June last year after investigators were able to piece together their involvement in the plot.

London group charged with attempted people smuggling into Great Yarmouth

Sergejs Kuliss, 32, a Latvian national living in Newham, London, was found guilty of conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration - Credit: National Crime Agency

They were charged alongside Kosyi, Mykhailov, and Gulpe with conspiring to facilitate illegal immigration.

Jusas pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court on August 6, but following an eight-week week trial at the same court Ivgi, Kuliss, Gulpe and Kosyi were found guilty on November 17 – exactly a year since the boat was intercepted.

Volodymyr Mykhailov was found not guilty.

Jusas, Ivgi, Kuliss and Kosyi were sentenced at the same court on December 21. 

Gulpe of Olaine, Latvia, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment at Chelmsford Crown Court Friday, January 21, after his previous appearance was adjourned.

In total the gang was jailed for 43 years.

Arturas Jusas

Arturas Jusas - Credit: National Crime Agency

NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said: “These men had no qualms about trying to smuggle vulnerable migrants on board an unseaworthy vessel, with ambitions to bring in hundreds more using this deadly method.

“Their sole motivation was monetary greed so I’m delighted they are now beginning lengthy jail terms for these despicable crimes.

“Working with partners like Border Force and Immigration Enforcement, we will relentlessly pursue people smugglers and bring them before the courts to face the consequence of their actions.”