POLICE have failed to find two children said to have been thrown into the sea by human smugglers.
A search of seas off Ninepin Islands will resume this morning after police chasing a smugglers' sampan on Friday said they saw two objects, thought to be children, thrown overboard.
But it remained unclear yesterday whether the trade in illegal immigrants had taken a sinister turn, or the smugglers had just thrown a decoy overboard to dupe their pursuers.
Senior Inspector Danny Mok Poon-lam said his crew saw the sampan off Sai Kung just before midnight on Friday and chased it for four miles towards the Ninepins.
As his launch came within 50 metres of the sampan, officers saw two men and about four children.
'One of our officers saw an object which fell into sea, splashing. Almost immediately, a second object about 60 to 90 centimetres long was thrown out,' Mr Mok said.
'Judging from the circumstances, we believed the objects might be children.' The police launch immediately abandoned the chase and began searching for the objects. They were soon joined by a helicopter and four more Marine Police launches.
But police yesterday could not confirm whether the objects were children's bodies.
The only thing discovered during yesterday's extensive, but fruitless, air and sea search was a 1.5-metre bundle of straw. It was retrieved off South Ninepin at 1.50 pm, but police were not sure it was one of the discarded objects.
Assistant Division Commander Jacky Ling Wai-po hoped smugglers had not adopted a new tactic in order to divert police from the chase.
But, if the objects were children, their chances of survival were low, he said.
'It is unlikely they would survive such a long time unless they were picked up by other ships nearby.' Another Marine Police officer said they had no alternative but to stop if they thought somebody was in the water.
'It really put us in a very difficult position.
'Maybe we need two patrol vessels in future: one to chase and the other for search and rescue,' he said.
A police spokesman said they would meet Shenzhen officials next week to discuss measures to curb the influx of illegal minors.