Move to stem flow of S Asians
Police have launched airborne surveillance to crack down on the smuggling of illegal South Asian immigrants from the mainland in small speedboats that are difficult to spot on radar from patrol boats.
The move is part of stepped-up efforts to combat a growing number of illegal immigrants from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The speedboats operate from the Shenzhen coastal centres of Nanao and Shekou , police say.
'The speedboats are small. Big waves could block our radar from detecting them,' Superintendent Ling Wai-po, of the marine police small boat unit, said.
The unit, the force's elite team in the fight against illegal activities at sea, shifted its focus from goods smuggling to people smuggling following a surge in arrests of illegal immigrants from South Asia.
Arrests in the first nine months of this year were triple that of the whole of last year.
With aerial surveillance, officers in a Government Flying Service helicopter are in radio contact with marine police launches and pursuit craft, telling them where to intercept boats.
'The advantage of using a helicopter is its ability to cover a huge area. It can help police to identity suspicious boats easily and record their movements clearly,' Mr Ling said.
For security reasons, officers refused to reveal how often these joint operations are mounted.
In the past few months, officers from the small boat unit have arrested an average of 30 to 40 illegal immigrants at sea a month. Previously, arrests averaged 20 to 30 illegal immigrants a month.
Total arrests of illegals in August and September numbered 364, with most of the illegals lodging claims for refugee or Convention Against Torture status to avoid deportation, police said.
Illegal immigrants usually made the border crossing aboard high-powered speedboats at night, police said. The boats can carry eight to 10 people.
'Intelligence reveals illegal immigrants pay 2,000 yuan a head before they board a Hong Kong-bound speedboat,' a police source said.
But some South Asian illegal immigrants told investigators that they had to pay between US$700 and US$1,000 for the trip.
'The high-speed trip usually takes about 20 minutes. But sometimes, speedboats hide behind islands to wait until our marine police patrol launches have left the area,' he said.
Illegals usually disembark at Lau Fau Shan, Lung Kwu Tan or Sai Kung.
The same routes and methods are used by mainlanders brought in to steal Buddhist pines, also known as fung shui trees, which command high prices across the border.
Police said smugglers had also changed their tactics. In the past, smuggled goods were loaded onto speedboats at sea near the boundary.
Now, illicit goods were being loaded onto speedboats from the shore, they said.
Change in tactics
Smugglers have changed tactics from loading speedboats offshore to loading from the shore
Last year, marine police seized smuggled goods worth, in HK dollars $240m
In the first 10 months of this year, they seized smuggled goods worth $183m