Published: 23:10, 21 January 2021
| Updated: 23:13, 21 January 2021
A man who piloted 36 fellow asylum seekers in overloaded inflatable boats across the English Channel has been jailed.
Border Force discovered Fouad Kakaei, 30, manning a stricken rubber inflatable boat containing 27 people off the Kent coast.
Deported but undeterred, the Iranian was soon caught again trying to make the same perilous English Channel crossing, driving 11 people, including two teenagers.
Both voyages across the world’s busiest shipping lane were undertaken at night without navigational lights, a court heard.
He was jailed for two years and two months for his part in the largest UK people smuggling bid by rubber boats to date.
He will likely face deportation on completion of his prison spell after pleading guilty to two counts of assisting unlawful immigration, Canterbury Crown Court heard.
Prosecutors argued Kakaei’s unwavering persistence, the passengers being unknown to each other, the Dover Straits’ inherent dangers and the risk of hypothermia were aggravating factors.
But Kakaei’s defence argued he boarded the boat out of desperation after being persecuted in his native country, had no financial motive and was one of many who piloted the vessels.
Prosecutor Simon Taylor QC explained the second boat was built for seven people, not 12. He said: “The problem with overloading such vessels is that it increases the chance of taking in water and reduces speed and maneuverability. These vessels were crossing a very busy shipping lane."
Rhibs are not considered suitable for such crossings, even when not overloaded.
“The timings of the interceptions suggest the journeys would have taken place in the dark, neither of the vessels were fitted with navigation lights,” he added.
Border Force rescued the 27 asylum seekers after they ran into trouble off the Kent coast in July 2019.
Placed under caution at the Port of Dover, Kakaei admitted playing a part in piloting the inflatable, he refused to hand over the pin to his Samsung mobile.
Of the 27 people on the boat all were adults bar two - one was 17 and the other aged 15.
He would tell the authorities he wished to claim asylum for fear of persecution in Iran and was not part of a wider people smuggling conspiracy.
Mr Taylor continued: “He said he was not engaged as a facilitator, he was the driver of the boat, he said he was told by a male in France to head to a red marker in the UK and then to call the authorities when they got to the coastline.
“He said it was not just him that piloted the boat, he said they took turns.”
Kakaei was soon deported to Denmark where, after a failed asylum bid and falling destitute, he made his way to the northern coast in France for another crossing attempt.
His plans were thwarted when, in December that year, the boat he was piloting was intercepted in the English Channel with 11 other people on board.
It was designed to hold a maximum of seven.
He told Border Force he made the second voyage following various failed attempts to gain entry by lorry and accepted he piloted the boat.
“A source in Germany told him to go to Calais to the train station where he was met by a man who introduced him to a group of people who were transported by boat to the UK.
“He accepted that he had piloted the boat, he said he did so because nobody else could do it, he said the engine was problematic and he didn’t wish to die at the scene,” Mr Taylor added.
“The officer asked the defendant if he had anything to ask him, his response was ‘I have nothing to ask you, just tell them the next time I come again I will bring no phones and not say anything, I have not been fed properly since arriving.”
Mitigating, Aneurin Brewer called for his “immediate release from detention” following repeated “unavoidable but detrimental (court) delays.”
The barrister told Judge Mark Weekes Kakaei, who has spent almost a year on remand, is: “A genuine refugee fleeing persecution from his home country, Iran.
He argued Kakaei boarded the boats out of desperation, had been refused asylum in Denmark and sought other options before finding himself destitute on the French coast.
“He had no financial motive for either offence, he paid, as did all the migrants on the boat for the crossing, and along with many other migrants agreed to assist piloting the boat and was merely unfortunate enough to be the one holding the tiler when the boat was intercepted.”
He added: “On the second occasion he agreed to pilot the boat when he feared for his life and the lives of the other migrants, so there was something of a duress of circumstances.
“He was not responsible for setting up these crossings, so he is not responsible for the overloading of these vessels or the inappropriateness of the crossings being attempted.”
Judge Mark Weekes jailed Kakaei for two years and two months and ordered the confiscation of the vessels.