A "large and organised" smuggling syndicate which treated human beings as "freight" smuggled 35 immigrants into the UK in cramped conditions, resulting in the death of one man, a court in England has heard.
Three Northern Ireland men are among those accused of involvement in the smuggling ring.
Stephen McLaughlin (34) of Limavady, Co Londonderry; Timothy Murphy (33) of Elmgrove, also Derry; Martin McGlinchey (47) of Derrylaughan Road, Coalisland, Co Tyrone, and Taha Sharif (38), who is Kurdish, have all pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.
Meet Singh Kapoor, (40) was found dead in a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex on August 16 last year.
He was among a group of 35 immigrants, including 15 children, jurors heard. The rest survived but were found distressed in cramped conditions, the court was told.
Prosecutor Michael Goodwin said the accused were part of a syndicate which had been foiled in attempts to break UK immigration laws on at least one previous occasion. On August 5, 12 Afghan nationals had been found concealed in a lorry's panic lockers at a terminal in Coquelles, France.
Mr Goodwin added: "This syndicate was responsible for at least two operations committed some 11 days apart, intended to breach UK immigration controls. Both occasions in fact failed and the smuggling was detected.
"This operation involved effectively smuggling human beings into this country as freight."
The group of migrants, whose ages ranged from 16 months to 72, are Afghan Sikhs, many of whom had fled persecution in their homeland.
Mr Goodwin said the second smuggling attempt was uncovered when dock workers heard noises inside the container after it arrived on a ship from Zeebrugge, Belgium.
He added: "Dock workers heard knocking and shouting coming from inside the container which was still on board the ship having docked at about 6am.
"The police broke the seal and rear doors and the 35 illegal entrants were found on board in a distressed state.
They were found to be suffering from breathing difficulties and other difficulties having been locked in a confined space since the previous day. One of the people had died during the crossing overnight."
Mr Goodwin said the defendants had taken huge risks but had a "substantial financial motive".
"A large and well organised operation does not come cheap and some of the clandestines and their families had paid substantial amounts of money," he added.
He said Murphy drove the lorry carrying the container to Zeebrugge followed by Sharif, who was "back-up" to ensure nothing went wrong after the failed August 5 attempt, jurors heard.
The other men were in regular contact to ensure the operation went smoothly, Mr Goodwin said.
He added: "This was a professional operation and, like any legitimate business or operation, each person played a vital role in the running of this conspiracy."