8 shots fired in bid to trap smugglers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am

An air and land search involving a large number of officers from the elite police tactical unit was under way last night for a group of smugglers who escaped during an operation in which eight shots were fired.

The smugglers, who were caught loading contraband on to nine speedboats at Sha Tau Kok late on Thursday, escaped on land after failing to break through a marine police blockade with their vessels.

Two suspects, men aged 29 and 34, were arrested early yesterday but another six to eight were still being hunted last night.

Police opened fire as the smugglers repeatedly drove their boats at high speed towards the police vessels in an effort to break through into mainland waters.

The standoff began shortly before 10pm on Thursday when police ambushed the men at the notorious smuggling hotspot.

Eight to 10 men, who were loading goods onto the speedboats, leapt into the boats and tried to flee but they were immediately intercepted by marine police vessels that were lying in wait.

'Three times they tried to get through us at high speed,' marine police divisional commander Cheung Mei-hon said.

'Two officers on board therefore opened fire in the direction of the speedboats.'

Cheung said the officers opened fire according to police rules that they should do so only to protect human lives and because they felt that lives were under threat, with one firing seven times and another once.

'No one was injured as far as we know and there are no bullet holes in any of the nine speedboats,' he said.

Flares and floodlights were used and the sea was calm at the time, so the police could see the boats clearly, he said.

When the speedboats failed to break through, they headed back to the shore and those on board fled immediately on foot.

The two arrested suspects were seized about three hours later at Kai Kuk Shue Ha, about two kilometres from Sha Tau Kok.

The nine speedboats, in which computer hard disks and electronic parts worth about HK$8 million were found, were taken yesterday morning to the Ma Liu Shui marine police base.

Cheung said four of the boats, which had motors ranging in power from 140 to 600 horsepower, were unregistered.

The other five were registered and the Marine Department was trying to find the owners.

While smuggling is frequent and it is not uncommon for smugglers to flee and abandon their speedboats when intercepted by police, few try to escape by ramming marine police vessels.

On September 5, a speedboat carrying two mainlanders, aged 25 and 28, was intercepted off Sai Kung. In trying to escape, the duo attempted to ram a marine police vessel but they were caught in Siu Long Ke when the speedboat ran aground in shallow water.

Computer hard disks and cigarettes worth HK$1 million were seized.

The most dramatic episode involving smugglers and police occurred on January 5, 1994, when some 100 shots were exchanged between police and smugglers off Sai Kung. No one was injured.