Three convicted of trying to smuggle 19 migrants into Southwold
- Credit: Archant
Three people have been convicted of trying to smuggle 19 migrants into the UK through Southwold on a hired yacht from the Netherlands.
A National Crime Agency investigation began after the boat - Flamingo - arrived into Southwold harbour on October 1 last year, having sailed across the North Sea.
Shortly after the boat landed officers from the NCA and the Border Force coastal patrol vessel 'Alert' moved in and Yevhenii Vasylkov, 30, and Yupi Karakin, 27, were arrested, alongside a number of migrants who were still on the vessel.
Ten migrants had already been transferred into two vehicles for onward transportation. Those vehicles were stopped by Suffolk Police officers as they drove towards Ipswich and drivers Yuril Dzhuraniuk, 26 and Mykhailo Riok, 27, were arrested.
All 19 migrants were passed to Immigration Enforcement.
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The four all initially denied facilitating illegal migration, but on day three of their trial at Blackfriars Crown Court Vasylkov changed his plea to guilty.
The trial continued, and on Monday, April 16, Dzhuraniuk and Riok were found guilty. They will be sentenced on May 10. Karakin was found not guilty, but as he entered the UK illegally he now faces being removed back to Ukraine.
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NCA branch operations manager Tony Luhman said: 'This case demonstrates how criminal networks involved in organised immigration crime are prepared to risk the lives of the people they smuggle for the sake of profit.
'The vessel they travelled in from the Netherlands was not equipped to make such a journey, and had it run into trouble the consequences could have been fatal.
'But this crime group didn't care about that, they just wanted to make money out of the desperation of others to reach the UK.
'There were clearly others involved in this and other similar smuggling attempts, in that respect our investigation continues.'
This investigation forms part of Project Invigor, the UK's Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce that targets the criminal networks behind people smuggling. It is led by the NCA and includes partners such as Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and the Crown Prosecution Service, working in the UK and internationally.
'Our coast is vulnerable'
A councillor who represents Southwold at town, district and county level has said the case is a 'wake up call' about how vulnerable that stretch of the east coast is.
Michael Ladd said patrols along the coast need to be stepped up further to prevent this type of crime happening again.
He said: 'It is very shocking for the people of Southwold to know this is happening in their town but it also shows that we are quite vulnerable along that stretch of coast.
'I understand it is a big piece of coast, but I do think we could do with more border control in the future.
'It's something that could happen again and we need some sort of reassurance that there will be more checks along this part of the coast.'
The call follows concerns previously raised by Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore.
In 2016, he said the county was 'wide open' to criminals and called for defences to be tightened urgently.
'I think the coast here in Suffolk is particularly vulnerable,' he said. 'We have 31 ports and marinas and it's all too easy for organised crime groups to practise their ill deeds here.'