PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 12:00am

SCENE OF THE CRIME: A TV screen showing images of the interior of a truck examined by a mobile X-ray system is displayed by Customs officers, who hope the multimillion-dollar equipment will enable them to outwit smugglers. Describing the system as a first for Asia, the head of the Ship Search and Cargo Command, Senior Superintendent Ronald Au Yee-leung, unveiled two giant mobile X-ray trucks from the United States yesterday, each costing $21 million.

They will give officers unprecedented ability to trace drugs, firearms and stowaways concealed inside containers. 'These two vehicles are going to largely improve our efficiency in terms of speed and accuracy,' Mr Au said after a ceremony at the Customs and Excise headquarters on Stonecutter's Island. The acting Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Li Wai-man, officiated at the ceremony and the live demonstration.

The system is mounted on an ordinary truck, enabling it to travel to different border-crossing points and cargo handling areas. It takes about a minute to scan a standard 40-foot container. Senior Inspector Tam Wai-leung said the system was perfect. He said even if objects inside the container compartment were blocked by thick steel to escape a direct X-ray hit, the X-ray reflection could still catch the images clearly.

Mr Au said his unit had been searching for a hi-tech system after a series of stowaway tragedies, including an incident last year when 58 Fujian residents were found dead in a container in Dover, England. 'This is going to be a sure-win situation for Hong Kong Customs,' Mr Au said. 'We hope no one will ever think they can get past Hong Kong easily.' He added that the department hoped to buy two more scanners if its budget allowed.

Each mobile scanner costs about $2.5 million a year to maintain. Forty-two officers have been trained to operate it.


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