A court sentenced two British men to prison on Friday after convicting them of trying to smuggle 18 Albanian citizens from France to Britain on a small inflatable boat, a trip that prosecutors said nearly cost the migrants their lives.
A British border force ship and a helicopter rescued the group on May 29 off the coast of Kent in south-eastern England in rough seas with poor visibility, the Crown Prosecution Service said.
Maidstone Crown Court, in Kent, sentenced Robert Stilwell to four years and four months in prison and Mark Stribling to four years and eight months in prison after both men pleaded guilty to "conspiring to assist illegal immigration."
Stilwell, 33, and Stribling, 35, had initially claimed they rescued the Albanian group, which included a woman and two children, on their rigid-hulled inflatable boat.
"This was an appalling case where the two defendants tried to bring this group of vulnerable migrants into the UK ashore illegally," said Kris Venkatasami, the deputy chief prosecutor for south-eastern England.
"Those on the boat had paid 6,000 euros each to make the trip, which nearly cost them their lives," Venkatasami said.
The boat's battery apparently failed shortly after the group left France. Water began pouring into the vessel, "leaving those on board to frantically try to bail it out as fast as they could," he said.
Stribling and Stilwell were the only two people wearing life jackets on the boat, Venkatasami said.