Mainland forces hijack local vessels
By ANDY GILBERT and STELLA LEE
ARMED Chinese security forces hijacked a local tug and lighter 13 kilometres inside Hong Kong waters, while a Marine Police escort stood by powerless to intervene, it has emerged.
Instructions were given to the police from Security Branch not to prevent the vessels leaving Hong Kong territory despite local people being on board.
The hijacking, which took place off the High Island reservoir in broad daylight on Saturday morning, was carried out by the Chinese Border Defence Bureau, security forces based on the Zhizhou islands south of Hong Kong, police confirmed yesterday.
A distress message was picked up at about 9 am by the Marine Police, who attempted to intercept the vessels six kilometres east of High Island.
But six Chinese uniformed officers, two wielding machine guns, refused to give up the vessels, which were believed to have been smuggling about 40 cars.
Senior Superintendent Ian Tyzzer said police launches kept in touch with the security forces, who had a small speedboat, but were instructed not to provoke a confrontation.
The vessels were then escorted 25 kilometres south into Chinese waters.
At least two Hong Kong men were on board and have not been seen since. The hijacking has highlighted the apparent ineffectiveness of the Hong Kong authorities to tackle what is becoming an increasing problem.
Meanwhile, the Customs and Excise Department made a record seizure of 23 left-hand-drive cars worth about $7 million.
The head of the department's Prosecution, Intelligence and Investigation Bureau, Senior Superintendent Ronald Au Yee-leung, said he expected the smuggling problem to worsen because the mainland tightened control on the import of left-hand-drive cars earlier this year.
There was an increasing demand for vehicles in China because of the booming economy, Mr Au said.
Four Hong Kong people, three women and a man, were detained over seizure. Until then, only two left-hand-drive vehicles had been seized this year.
The figure last year was 17.
The 23 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, Accord, Lexus, Toyota and Audi, could be sold for up to $21 million on the mainland, Mr Au said.
They were intercepted on a mainland vessel heading to Shantou off Kwun Tong shore.
Mr Au said the vehicles did not have any export licences and were falsely declared as lighting devices and accessories.