Seafood serves up tasty racket for smugglers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong smugglers are believed to be behind a massive increase in the amount of seafood being illegally transported onto the mainland.

Marine police have seized HK$5.64 million worth of smuggled seafood in the first half of this year.

That is more than three times the total value of seafood seized in the whole of last year, which was HK$1.83 million.

The main delicacies being smuggled include lobsters, geoduck and oysters imported from overseas.

Terence Fung Wai-kin, senior superintendent at the marine crime regional headquarters, said the mainland's demand for expensive products and seafood had risen due to the increasingly prosperous economy.

But police had stepped up efforts to combat the smuggling of luxury products, and this had led to an increase in the trafficking of seafood.

The mainland also imposes a tax of 30 per cent on highly priced seafood, creating a profit margin for smugglers.

'Now they smuggle whatever makes a profit,' he said. 'We have even seized water monitor lizards before. There are some people in mainland China who have a special taste in food.'

A customs officer said demand had also risen because of the number of visitors arriving in Shenzhen for the World University Games, which started on Friday.

Fung said many smugglers were previously fishermen. With the decline of the fishing industry in Hong Kong they turned to smuggling many years ago and had developed syndicates with a historical background.

He said he had arrested a father, then 20 years later his son and his 16-year-old grandson, all from the same smuggling family.

Fung also said boats with seafood could usually be found in western waters of Hong Kong near the airport, while boats with computer parts could mostly be found in the eastern waters. Overall smuggling figures in the first half of this year saw a rise of 7 per cent, from 28 cases to 30 cases year on year.

Twenty-six people were arrested, with goods costing HK$38,902,991 confiscated. Apart from seafood, these included iPhones and iPads, computer parts, cigarettes, live snakes, frozen pangolin and expensive traditional Chinese medicine.

Superintendent Albert Ho Wai-hong, at the marine regional crime headquarters, said smugglers would use either fishing boats or speedboats, or would use small boats first then transfer to speedboats at designated points. The three options would be rotated to avoid being caught by police or customs officers.

Meanwhile, there were 32 cases of illegal logging of Buddhist pine and incense trees in the first half this year, up 255 per cent year on year.

The trees were cut down and transported to the mainland to be sold as fung shui plants or expensive Chinese medicine. Police are co-operating with the Agricultural Fisheries and Conservation Department to combat the practice.