Sailor swims to deserted island after being forced overboard by smugglers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 October, 1994, 12:00am

THE Royal Navy may discuss possible changes to anti-smuggling operations after a young sailor was abducted by smugglers and forced to swim to an uninhabited island.

Leading Weapons Engineer Neil 'Pony' Moore, 23, spent nearly an hour in the water wearing heavy body armour following a fight with smugglers after boarding their speeding tai fei. It was his first anti-smuggling operation.

He swam about 1.5 kilometres to Sha Chau with an injured leg and was later picked up by a Marine Police vessel, which spotted the light on his life jacket.

The incident near Chinese waters north of Lantau early yesterday will prompt discussion about procedures following the daring boardings of fast-moving tai feis by the Royal Navy.

They are the only members of the anti-smuggling taskforce who jump aboard smuggling vessels to try to cut the engines' fuel lines, a feat which has earned them the nickname 'wildcats' from those they pursue.

But it is unlikely the Royal Navy will change its tactics, which have helped cut the number of tai fei sightings from more than 1,500 a month two years ago to just a handful.

'If there appears to be a conscious decision by the smugglers to begin trying to abduct us then we would have to discuss a possible policy change of what to do once in the boat,' said Lieutenant-Commander Simon Brown, the officer commanding HMS Plover in yesterday's operation.

'However, nothing that occurred has led us to believe that a change of training is needed.' Regular training is given to the taskforce members, but once they board the tai feis they have to act by instinct, he said.

The drama began at 1.50 am when HMS Plover located a tai fei hiding to the west of Sha Chau, a small group of islands northwest of Chek Lap Kok.

Commander Brown instructed two of his fast pursuit craft to approach the smugglers' vessel, but it fled when it sighted the speedboats from about 50 metres.

The lead navy speedboat drew alongside the tai fei after dodging fuel drums thrown at it. At speeds approaching 100 km/h, Engineer Moore threw himself onto the tai fei.

'Normally two of us board but I suddenly realised I was the only one on,' he said. 'They ran to the front of the boat and I thought they were going to try to hide there and take me into Chinese waters. I was worried at that stage, until then it was just excitement.' 'When they realised there was only one of us on board one of them grabbed me and the second came at me with a long stick.' After being pinned down as the boat's driver spun the vessel through 360 degrees, he was pushed overboard. He managed to strike one of them with his baton but never had time to draw his pistol.

'Had I not been pushed I probably would have jumped,' he said.

Engineer Moore, who has served in the Navy for six years and in Hong Kong for six months, then swam to Sha Chau, where he waited to be rescued.

Commander Brown alerted headquarters, which scrambled the Government Flying Service and the Royal Air Force for a possible search operation. The Chinese authorities were also alerted as it was not initially clear whether the sailor was still in the tai fei.

But a Marine Police launch spotted the light on his life-jacket before the search was mounted, and picked him up at 3.30 am.

'I thought I was going to be there all night,' he said.

Engineer Moore is no stranger to drama - he was one of the navy divers who located the wreck of the Hercules transport plane which fell into the harbour two weeks ago.