Alleged smugglers arrested after ‘dangerous’ 30-minute sea chase

Alleged smugglers ram launch in escape bid; 2 arrested as precious incense timber seized

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 6:40pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 May, 2014, 4:16am

Two alleged mainland smugglers who rammed a pursuing Customs launch in a bid to escape have been arrested after a 30-minute sea chase east of Hong Kong waters.

Describing their actions as “reckless” and “dangerous”, a customs official said officers seized HK$5 million worth of smuggled goods after intercepting the vessel off the Ninepin islands last night.

No one was injured in the chase although the Customs launch suffered damage to its hull.

The haul included 400kg of incense timber with an estimated value of HK$2.4 million, according to Benson Lee Tak-shun, head of Customs’ marine enforcement bureau. He said initial examination showed it was endangered species.

“On the mainland, incense timber can be used as medicines and to make sculptures,” he said. “It is estimated to be worth about HK$6,000 per kilogram on the black market.”

He said an initial investigation showed the 27 bags of incense were smuggled into Hong Kong before the attempt to smuggle it to Huidong in Guangdong, to escape hefty taxes. It is the first seizure of incense timber this year.

Another 100 boxes of health food product were also seized from the 20-metre fishing boat.

The fishing boat raised the suspicion of Customs officers as it appeared overloaded off Tung Lung Chau.

“It accelerated while our launch approached. They refused to stop and raced away,” Wong Hay-hup, head of Customs’ marine enforcement division, said. “During the half-hour chase, they ignored sea safety and rammed into our launch.”

The two men, aged 43 and 46, are being held for questioning today.

Police figures show reports of illegal felling of incense trees rose by 43 per cent to 96 last year from 67 in 2012. There were 72 such reports in 2011. Police arrested 41 people in connection with such illegal felling last year. Officers arrested 64 people in 2012 and 65 in 2011.