A man who smuggled a group of migrants across the North Sea towards the UK in a “dangerously overcrowded and badly equipped” yacht has been jailed for more than two years, the Home Office said.
Eduard Mucaj spent two days at sea with 12 Albanian migrants, including an eight-year-old child, according to the government department.
The yacht was carrying more than three times its capacity and was fitted with a faulty engine.
“Eduard Mucaj piloted a dangerously overcrowded and badly equipped yacht across the North Sea from the Netherlands, despite having no safety equipment or navigational devices,” the Home Office said.
Mucaj, 51, was arrested for facilitating illegal entry to the UK and attempting to arrive in the UK himself without valid entry clearance.
He pleaded guilty to both charges and, at Ipswich Crown Court on Monday, was jailed for two years and eight months.
Mucaj set sail from Den Oever in the Netherlands in the early hours of August 9 last year.
He was tracked by Dutch authorities who monitored the yacht’s movement as it sailed “erratically” towards Lowestoft, Suffolk.
The Dutch coastguard alerted the Home Office when Mucaj failed to respond to their attempts to make contact with the vessel, and the yacht was intercepted two days later by a Border Force patrol vessel as it entered UK territorial waters.
Border Force officers found a dozen migrants “crammed” below deck.
None of them had life jackets or harnesses, apart from Mucaj, who was seen at the helm wearing a life jacket, waterproofs and boots.
Two of the migrants on board had previously been handed deportation orders and were banned from entering the UK and have since been removed from the country, the Home Office said.
Minister for Illegal Migration, Michael Tomlinson, said: “Evil people smugglers will go to any length to profit from people seeking to reach our shores illegally.
“This shocking case saw lives recklessly endangered, with people crammed on board a death-trap with no regard for their safety or the law.
“I’d like to thank our officers and Dutch counterparts for their co-operation and hard work that has taken place to swiftly put this criminal behind bars.
“We are working relentlessly to stop the boats and ensure those responsible for dangerous smuggling attempts not only face the full weight of the law, but have their entire business model dismantled.”
The Home Office’s criminal and financial investigation team worked with their Dutch counterparts to gather evidence for the case.
Chris Foster, deputy director of the Home Office team, said: “People smugglers are going to increasingly extreme lengths to bring people into the UK illegally.
“Today’s sentence reflects the severity of this brazen smuggling attempt that spanned over 120 nautical miles of open seas.
“I want to thank my teams who work tirelessly to investigate those responsible for these crimes and ensure they are brought to justice.”