Mainland ordered to hand back HK people
By DARREN GOODSIR
HONG KONG has demanded the immediate release of two residents captured by mainland security forces during an unauthorised incursion in territory waters.
It is understood Political Adviser Robert Peirce presented a detailed objection to China's representatives at Xinhua (the New China News Agency).
Mr Peirce's presentation included photographs of last week's confrontation, precise times and co-ordinates of the incursion by the Chinese gunboat and a demand the Hong Kong crew and vessels be returned immediately.
He also requested an investigation into how the Chinese vessel drifted 13 kilometres into Hong Kong waters last Saturday.
Following the South China Morning Post's report on the incident yesterday, the Security Branch said: 'We have expressed to the Chinese authorities through the New China News Agency our serious concern about this incident and asked them to investigate it urgently. We have also requested the immediate return to Hong Kong of the vessels and crew. We also encouraged the Chinese side to take firm measures to prevent further such episodes.' More details of the hijacking last Saturday - and an armed standoff between Marine Police and the boat commanded by Chinese Border Security Forces - emerged yesterday.
Marine Police were alerted at 9 am after taking a message from the Hong Kong tug that it had been boarded by armed uniformed officers near High Island.
Following guidelines, police alerted Security Branch via duty officer, Assistant Secretary Jenny Yip.
It was decided to escort the Chinese vessel south for 25 kilometres to put it out of territory waters.
But, as the vessel - based on Zhizhou island south of Hong Kong - was towing a slow-paced tug and lighter, police were ordered to resolve the dispute by contacting counterparts in Zhuhai.
However, navy authorities were not asked to assist in the operation.
'We tried to persuade them to leave our waters,' said one government official. 'But we wanted them to leave the tugboat and lighter behind.' After making contact with Chinese authorities, an agreement was apparently reached between Marine Police and Zhuhai to get the mainland boat to surrender the crew and vessels, believed to be carrying 40 smuggled vehicles.
However, the mainland command room claimed its boat's radio was not working. It was then agreed to try to convince the mainland security personnel to come aboard the Hong Kong police launch to make radio contact with base.
But this request, made on a loud-hailer, was ignored and - not wanting to provoke hostility - Marine Police were eventually instructed to simply ensure a safe passage from territory waters.
Police yesterday refused to comment officially.
Meanwhile, it was revealed last night the Deputy Secretary for Security, Ken Woodhouse, was informed from the start, contrary to statements he made to the Post on Thursday.
Mr Woodhouse stressed that, when contacted, he suggested he had no knowledge of what action had been taken since the incident.
Several sources confirmed the incident had provoked tensions in marine ranks and had been formally included in a morale report.
This will soon be presented to the Commissioner, Eddie Hui Ki-on.
Earlier this month, police were told through normal operational channels that the Chinese would be undertaking anti-smuggling patrols.
When asked if the Royal Navy was informed of the incident, a spokesman said: 'We were not involved.' Asked to define what was considered the Navy's role in similar instances, he added: 'The role of the British Garrison is what it has been for the last 150 years: the protection of British sovereignty.' 'The Navy's role is exactly the same - as well as to assist the Royal Hong Kong Police in maintaining law and order inside the territory's boundaries.'