Marine officers' beat covers 2,000 sq kms

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 December, 1998, 12:00am

Inspectors and constables who wish to do something other than patrol the streets can apply to join the Marine Police following their basic training.

About 2,000 Marine Police officers patrol the 2,000 square kilometres of water that surrounds Hong Kong, with officers on duty for 24-hour stints.

The police force is seeking to recruit 1,- constables and 162 inspectors during a year-long drive.

Superintendent Nicholas McQueen, of the Marine Police Sea Standards Division, said officers could expect to spend most of their career in the marine region but there was nothing to prevent them later transferring to other units.

He said the Marine Police - referred to in the force as a 'region' - was not keen to let recruits go once they had been trained. He said many of the skills the region required were not used by land- based officers.

'To do this job, you have to have a certain affinity for the sea. This region is particularly exciting for inspectors. Within about two years, an officer will be in command of a substantial police vessel which is a big responsibility,' Mr McQueen said.

'If you compare that to the navy, the chances of being an independent command at that age is unheard of.' Mr McQueen said consta bles had to pass an eye test to determine the position they would be offered within the region. They were then offered deck work (navigation and launch command duties) while others worked on the engineering side.

Moves are under way to modify the eyesight standards as a result of a high failure rate among promising officers.

All recruits for positions as launch mechanics must first earn their Marine Police Efficiency Certificate (MPEC).

The four-week course covers the structure of the marine region, the daily routine on launches and boats, basic seamanship and knowledge of engines and working on the water.

The course is followed by 12 months of sea training during which they learn about fire-fighting and personal survival techniques and complete a task book involving 150 items.

Based on a final assessment to determine whether they receive their MPEC, recruits return to the launch for two years at sea before working towards their next qualification.

Deck officers work towards a coxswain ticket (MPCC) which qualifies them to pilot a boat.

Launch mechanics study for their Marine Police technical certificate (MPTC) to take charge of an engine room or engines on smaller vessels.

An officer must first gain promotion to sergeant in his stream before working towards the Marine Police Navigation and Command Certificate (MPNCC) and the Marine Police Technical Charge Certificate (MPTCC).

Trainee inspectors do not require the MPCC qualification and time at sea is reduced to allow direct access to the MPNCC course. The training programme for an inspector is otherwise similar to that of a constable.

The police operate a fleet of 151 boats, ranging from the 40-metre Command Launch to the 3.9-metre Carson 400. The unit's speed on water will be boosted in the new year when it takes delivery of the first of five Interceptor speedboats.

The Dutch-made 14.5-metre boats cost about US$1 million and have three 500- horsepower engines capable of achieving speeds of 60 knots.

The vessels should greatly assist the police in their battle against smuggling and the interception of dai fei (extremely fast speedboats).

A bid to apprehend illegal immigrants involved another large portion of the region's workload. In the first 11 months of this year, 13,201 illegal immigrants were caught in the SAR compared to 17,819 last year.

About 40 per cent claimed they had travelled over water, at such favoured entry points as Lau Fau Shan, Sha Kiu Tsuen, Tsim Bei Tsui, Sha Tau Kok, Mirs Bay and Mai Po marshes.

'When the [British] army left, the police force began to take over their border duties. On the sea boundaries we have always been there and we are more evident than the [Royal] navy ever was because there are so many more of us.

'We are probably the biggest marine police organisation in the world. Most other countries do this function with their navy and coast guard. I would say our duties are comparable to the US Coastguard.' The provision of search and rescue facilities was another area of responsibility. The Marine Department is the primary controller of search and rescue operations, while the Marine Police acts as a subordinate search unit.