On all three runs, Nica, of Basildon, Essex, had arranged cars and a van to transport the migrants at the UK end
The migrants died “excruciatingly painful” deaths, having suffocated in the container en route from Belgium to Purfleet in , a judge said.
Ronan Hughes, 41, and Gheorghe Nica, 43, played “leading roles” in the smuggling conspiracy and were jailed for 20 and 27 years respectively.
Eamonn Harrison, 24, who towed the trailer to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge before their journey to the UK, was sentenced to 18 years.
Maurice Robinson, 26, was given 13 years and four months, having collected the trailer and opened it in an industrial estate to find the migrants dead.
Sentencing, Mr Justice Sweeney said: “I have no doubt that the conspiracy was a sophisticated, long-running and profitable one to smuggle mainly Vietnamese people across the channel.”
He said on the fatal trip the temperature had been rising along with the carbon dioxide levels throughout, hitting 40C (104F) while the container was at sea on .
“There were desperate attempts to contact the outside world by phone and to break through the roof of the container,” the judge said.
“All were to no avail and, before the ship reached Purfleet, [the victims] all died in what must have been an excruciatingly painful death.”