Customs seizes 600 ivory tusks worth $8m

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2006, 12:00am

The contraband, found in a secret container compartment, is the largest haul of its kind in Hong Kong in the past 20 years

Customs officers have seized ivory tusks worth $8 million, the biggest haul in Hong Kong since a global ban on the trade was introduced in 1989.

A total of 605 tusks were found on Tuesday packed in a secret compartment of a cargo container bound from Douala in Cameroon via Singapore, according to the Customs and Excise Department.

A 45-year-old shipping company official was arrested in connection with the case.

The tusks varied in length from 60cm to 1.5 metres and were destined for Macau, said Liu Hon-chun, head of Customs' Port Control Group.

'We also do not rule out the possibility that its final destination was on the mainland. We are still following up the case,' he said.

'The haul weighs 3.9 tonnes and is worth about $8 million. It is the largest seizure of this kind in the past 20 years.'

It was discovered when customs officers opened the container for inspection in Kwai Chung. 'The container was declared to be carrying timber. It was selected for inspection as our frontline officers felt suspicious because it is rare that timber is imported from Africa,' Mr Liu said.

A secret compartment in the back of the container was discovered and the tusks were spotted during a X-ray examination, he said. About 10 tonnes of low-grade timber were found in the front of the container.

The suspect was arrested when officers raided his office in Sheung Wan on Tuesday.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said there had been six major ivory smuggling cases involving more than 100kg discovered in the past 10 years. Officers seized 503kg of tusks last year and 1.93 tonnes in 2003.

'[There is] no indication that there is a large demand for ivory tusks in the city. This seizure is an individual case,' said Pauline Tong Yee-fun, the department's endangered species protection officer.

She said ivory tusks cost about $2,000 a kg and were normally used for making sculptures.

The two departments say they will work out how to dispose of the huge seizure.

Anyone found importing, exporting or in possession of a protected species, or their parts, without a licence faces a maximum penalty of $5 million and two years' jail.

Under the Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing undeclared cargo is liable to a maximum fine of $2 million and seven years in jail.

The suspect was released last night on bail, pending further investigation.