Smugglers' bid to beat carbon dioxide test

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 12:00am

The smugglers who put 12 stowaways on board a Hong Kong container bound for the US used plastic sheets inside the doors to thwart hi-tech carbon dioxide detectors, officers said yesterday.

The new tactic is believed to have been adopted after Customs officers used the detectors to discover 26 stowaways in a container at the Kwai Chung Container Terminal on October 18. The American-made device had found carbon dioxide levels four times higher than normal.

The hard-top container in which the stowaways were found hiding on Sunday was fitted with two large plastic sheets, 30cm apart, near the door. Police believe the two thick layers of plastic sheets served as an 'air trap' to stop carbon dioxide exhaled by the stowaways from being detected. It was not known whether the tactic would have foiled the detectors.

Human smugglers had earlier switched from soft-top to hard-top containers with air vents at the bottom after Customs stepped up checks on soft-tops.

Security officials said they were determined to stop human smuggling. Deputy Secretary for Security Timothy Tong Hin-ming said police had been working closely with mainland authorities to monitor underworld activities.

'We are not just making the arrest of 12 people in this case. We have cracked a syndicate from its roots,' he said.

Head of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, Chief Superintendent Andy Tsang Wai-hung, said police were investigating whether the syndicate had links to the other 13 cases involving the use or suspected use of Hong Kong as a transshipment point for human smuggling this year.

But he said Hong Kong was not a major transshipment base for human smugglers as there were only about 200 stowaways involving Hong Kong this year, compared with hundreds of thousands globally.

Mr Tsang said the bureau had detected the case on Sunday based on a months-long investigation and intelligence. Hundreds of officers were deployed to raid more than 10 premises.

Hui Chiu-chun, head of Customs' containerised cargo division, said detection capabilities would be further strengthened by April when it could have its first mobile X-ray scanner. Officers conducted checks based on a risk assessment system in which containers sent from forwarders with a suspicious background would be inspected.

'Containers which have patches of new paint on the side could also be suspicious as they could be signs of escape-doors drilled in the side,' said Mr Hui.

US Consul-General Michael Klosson called Commissioner of Police Eddie Hui Ki-on yesterday to congratulate the police for their success in the arrest of the stowaways on Sunday.

Mr Klosson said Hong Kong was not alone in facing human trafficking. It was a global problem that needed to be fought through proactive and determined law-enforcement work in each jurisdiction coupled with international co-operation.