Shark fins ‘discovered’ in Hong Kong cargo of freight companies that have banned product
Sea Shepherd Global claims it found falsely declared goods while carriers involved reiterate their policies and pledge to close loopholes
Large volumes of shark fins are still entering the city by air and sea through carriers that have pledged to ban the product, an investigation by a conservation group has found.
The three-month probe from November to January by non-profit group Sea Shepherd Global found that shipments avoided detection by “misdeclaring” and “mislabelling” shark fins under generic categories such as “seafood” or “dried marine products”.
“The months leading up to the [Lunar New Year] are the busiest for shark fin traders,” claimed Gary Stokes, Southeast Asia director for Sea Shepherd Global.
The organisation discovered two containers of shark fins from Oman in the Middle East carried by Maersk, the world’s largest shipping line. The Danish company implemented a worldwide ban on shark fin carriage in 2010.
Shark fins were also found in the cargo of Virgin Australia and Cathay Pacific aircraft but details could not be disclosed due to legal issues. It was uncertain if the fins were all from endangered species, which if confirmed, would be in breach of the law.
In response, Maersk said it had a policy not to accept shark products due to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. “We regard any breach of our policy as very serious.”
Cathay Pacific said it would work to provide support and close out any loopholes in their policies. The carrier introduced a full ban on the product in June 2016.
Virgin Australia Cargo said it had blacklisted the exporter involved in the falsely declared cargo. The company could not be named for legal reasons.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson added in a statement via Sea Shepherd: “For those who have knowingly participated, they need to hang their heads in shame.” Virgin Atlantic Airways stopped all shipments of shark fins in October 2011.
Meanwhile global conservation body WWF urged all shipping companies to minimise risks of involvement in the illegal wildlife trade by submitting all relevant documents to customs through online channels in advance.
Every year fins from up to 73 million sharks are used in shark’s fin soup, a Chinese wedding banquet staple that has led to overfishing of many shark species, with some populations crashing by more than 90 per cent, according to Stokes from Sea Shepherd.
But a growing movement is putting pressure on the illegal trade.
In July, 2016, mainland China’s biggest shipping and logistics company, China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco Shipping), pledged a total ban on shark fin transportation, while in January this year Air China Cargo became the first mainland carrier to ban the transport of shark fins.
Census and Statistics Department data showed imports of shark fins into Hong Kong dropped by 42 per cent between 2010 and 2015 – from almost 11,000 tonnes to about 6,300 tonnes.
Sea Shepard Global said about 92 per cent of shark fins entering Hong Kong arrived by sea freight.
In response to the investigation, the Customs and Excise Department advised members of the public to report any suspected smuggling activities to their 24-hour hotline at 2545 6182.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, in response to the investigation, also said it was committed to protecting endangered shark species.
It added that in a joint operation with customs in January and February, 1,280kg of fins from hammerhead sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks – both listed as endangered species under C.I.T.E.S. – were uncovered in four containers from India, Egypt, Kenya and Peru at Kwai Chung Customhouse.
The shark fins were seized by the department and an investigation is under way.