10 protected tortoises, bags of animal fur found on boat after high-speed sea chase near Hong Kong’s Lantau Island

Seven men loading boat escaped on foot, and another on boat returned to village during pursuit and also fled on land, police spokesman says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 11:53pm

Hong Kong authorities seized HK$3.4 million worth of smuggled goods, including 10 protected tortoises, after a high-speed sea chase that started at Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island, police said on Wednesday.

Marine police officers stopped a speedboat carrying the haul, which included 32 bags of animal fur and amber stones, from leaving Hong Kong waters. It was believed to be heading for the mainland.

The anti-smuggling operation was jointly mounted by police and customs officers on Tuesday night, after a tip-off and subsequent investigations.

On Tuesday, officers started the wait around the Tai O seashore at 4.30pm.

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More than four hours later, they spotted seven men loading bags of goods onto a speedboat, which was berthed at the waterfront.

“When the officers moved in, the seven fled on foot, while the speedboat with a man on board sped off towards the mainland,” a police spokesman said, adding that marine police then gave chase.

The spokesman said that during the pursuit, the speedboat was forced to make a U-turn and return to the Tai O seashore. The coxswain then abandoned the boat and managed to escape on land.

Officers combed the area, but no arrests were made.

On the speedboat, officers found boxes containing a total of 10 live tortoises, 30 bags of semi-finished animal fur and two bags of amber stones used for jewellery. The haul is estimated to have a market value of HK$3.4 million.

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The reptiles are known as geochelone sulcata, or African spurred tortoises, and listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendix II, according to police. Its trade is allowed but subject to licensing controls.

The Customs and Excise Department will follow up on the case.

Importing or exporting unmanifested goods carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and a HK$2 million fine under the Import and Export Ordinance.

Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, importing or exporting an endangered species without a licence carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a HK$5 million fine.

Members of the public may report any suspected smuggling activities to the customs department by calling its 24-hour hotline on 2545 6182.