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Hong Kong customs officers seize HK$17 million worth of contraband sea cucumber, arrest 7

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 30/12/2021 Christy Leung
  • The haul was seized off Cheung Chau aboard a small vessel believed to be smuggling it out of the city
  • Rather than using high-powered speedboats like many local smugglers, the suspects were travelling slowly along the coastline in an apparent effort to avoid radar detection

Hong Kong police and customs officers have seized HK$17 million (US$2.2 million) worth of contraband sea cucumber on a vessel believed to be smuggling it out of the city, arresting seven in the process.

Revealing the joint operation on Thursday, authorities said officers acting on intelligence found the suspected smuggling ring using a crane to load 120 boxes of goods onto a small vessel in the Western District Public Cargo Working Area on Tuesday afternoon.

The vessel then sailed south, with customs intercepting it off Cheung Chau and seizing 3,560kg of sea cucumber on board.

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Customs officers Lui Siu-fai (from left), Ho Yan-kit and Lam Ming-hong at a press conference on the anti-smuggling operation on Thursday. Photo: Edmond So © Provided by South China Morning Post Customs officers Lui Siu-fai (from left), Ho Yan-kit and Lam Ming-hong at a press conference on the anti-smuggling operation on Thursday. Photo: Edmond So

Rather than using high-powered speedboats like many local smuggling operations, Tuesday's suspects were operating a small vessel, similar to a kaito ferry, and travelling slowly along the coastline in an apparent effort to avoid radar detection and law enforcers, customs said.

"Vessels like this are usually used for transport within the harbour. We suspect the smugglers made use of such a vessel to gradually move smuggled goods towards the water boundary, attempting to smuggle them out of the city," said Divisional Commander Lui Siu-fai, of customs' syndicate crimes investigation bureau.

He added that the crewmen aboard the boat showed officers waybills upon interception.

"The information on the waybills was largely fake ... [The smugglers] pretended the vessel was transporting within the harbour, but in fact they were trying to cover up smuggling activity."

Six men and a woman, aged 31 to 80, were arrested across the city on suspicion of smuggling in connection with the operation. Three of them were picked up on the boat. Police said some of the suspects had triad backgrounds.

Customs officers intercepted the vessel off Cheung Chau and seized 3,560kg of sea cucumber on board. Photo: Edmond So © Provided by South China Morning Post Customs officers intercepted the vessel off Cheung Chau and seized 3,560kg of sea cucumber on board. Photo: Edmond So

The vessel and a truck were also seized for investigation.

The latest operation was part of an ongoing crackdown on rampant sea smuggling brought on by the recent death of a senior police inspector during a speedboat chase.

In October, Hong Kong customs seized HK$1.2 billion worth of contraband products in one go, the biggest single-operation haul in the outfit's 112-year history.

Sea change: Hong Kong law enforcers turn screw on cross-border smugglers

The massive haul of high-value goods - ranging from dried seafood and products made from endangered species to luxury handbags and electronic gadgets - was valued well above the HK$1.08 billion worth of contraband customs seized in all of 2019 and 2020.

The goods seized could have filled a multilevel department store, a law enforcement source said, and were likely worth more than HK$3 billion on the mainland.

In the first 10 months of this year, customs seized HK$2.07 billion worth of contraband in 81 maritime smuggling cases.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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