$60,000 in endangered coral seized during raid
FISHERIES officers believe they have smashed a coral-smuggling ring after an operation led to a record 300 pieces of coral, weighing 1,500 kilograms, being seized.
The coral, worth about $60,000, is an endangered species and its unlicensed import or export is banned under the Animals and Plants (Protection of Endangered Species) Ordinance, which came into effect in 1989.
Marine Police officers and officials from the Agriculture and Fisheries Department conducted a joint operation off Sai Kung on Monday in which they intercepted a fishing boat. On board, they seized boxes of giant clams and the coral.
Three Hongkong fishermen were arrested. They are liable to a maximum fine of $25,000.
About 9,000 species of animals and plants are regulated under the 1989 ordinance. They include parrots, sea turtles, owls and corals.
The corals seized were caught near Dongsha Qundao in China and officers believe they were for re-sale to local aquatic shops.
Government figures show the number of cases of illegally imported coral jumped from 20 in 1991 to 38 last year.
All cases involved individuals bringing in several pieces as souvenirs after returning from tropical countries such as Thailand and the Philippines. Monday's operation was the first case in which corals were allegedly smuggled into the territory for commercial purposes.
The department's senior conservation officer, Mr Cheung Man-kwong, declined to comment on the trend in coral-smuggling, but said stony corals did not have a high market value and some species could be found in Hongkong waters.
''However, we must take each case seriously. Stony corals are endangered species and we have to do our best to protect them.'' Meanwhile, customs officers arrested a 29-year-old man and seized $1 million worth of fake leather goods following a two-month investigation.
The man was arrested while removing goods from a flat in Shun Ning Road, Cheung Sha Wan. A search of nearby premises found 3,500 handbags, wallets and key-holders carrying well-known French trademarks.
It is believed the fake goods were intended for distribution to hawkers and underground outlets in Tsim Sha Tsui and Yau Ma Tei.
The man was last night released on bail of $50,000 pending further inquiries by customs officers.