II transit hub concern denied

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 12:00am

The Secretary for Security yesterday denied the SAR was becoming a transit point for human smuggling, after Friday's arrest of 162 mainland illegal immigrants - the biggest bust by police in three years.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the incident was an isolated case, but added there was a need to step up the exchange of intelligence with mainland and overseas authorities to combat people smuggling.

'We are talking about only one case. I do not think that reflects a trend. But it does show that, given Hong Kong's geographical location, unlawful elements will want to exploit our position from time to time. This case shows that our enforcement actions are effective,' Mrs Ip said.

'I believe human trafficking cases are sometimes inevitable. Hong Kong is convenient in transport [terms] as many boats have to stop over at Hong Kong before travelling to many other countries,' she said after a Fight Crime Committee meeting yesterday.

At about 8pm on Friday, 121 men and 35 women, aged between 18 and 51, were found crammed inside the holds of a mainland river-trade vessel off the Tuen Mun River Trade Terminal during an anti-illegal immigrant operation.

When police ordered the 38.5-metre vessel to stop for inspection, it tried to escape eastwards but was intercepted south of Tuen Mun River. Six crew on the boat, also illegal immigrants, were arrested.

Police said the boat sailed from Guangzhou on Thursday and it was believed the immigrants planned to transfer to Japan via another boat in the SAR.

A senior officer said investigations revealed that the illegal immigrants had each paid a syndicate between 100,000 yuan (HK$94,300) and 150,000 yuan.

She estimated that the syndicate could have earned $20 million from the shipment. The migrants were all from Fujian province.

Police believe the syndicate intended to transfer the human cargo to a container on the open sea, because Marine Police found only limited food and water in the two holds where the migrants were discovered.

'We are trying to find out the smuggling route but so far the six arrested crewmen denied any involvement,' the officer said.

The case has been taken up by the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau.

All the migrants were detained at San Uk Leng centre in Ta Kwu Ling awaiting repatriation, while the six crewmen were being questioned by anti-triad officers.

Up to the end of October, 6,762 illegal immigrants were arrested. Last year 8,476 people were arrested - down by 30 per cent on the 12,170 arrested in 1999.

Meanwhile, total crime figures stood at 60,526 up to October - a six per cent drop from the same period last year. The number of bank robberies, however, leapt from 16 last year to 44 so far.

Mrs Ip said she could not rule out the possibility that the rise was linked to the economic downturn.