Ivory smugglers are finding new ways to bring banned elephant tusks into Hong Kong, Customs officials said yesterday as they announced the third largest seizure of raw tusks in three months.
The 1.3-tonne haul of 779 pieces, estimated to be worth HK$10.6 million, had been hidden in a shipment labelled architectural stones in a 20ft container, which came from Kenya via Malaysia. The tusks were cut into pieces - despite whole tusks being more valuable - and wrapped in canvas bags, before being stored in five crates.
They were hidden among stones of similar shape and density to the tusks, so might have enabled the contraband to escape X-ray tests. They were consigned to a newly established company in Hong Kong, with no record of import or export.
"Imports from Kenya are usually agriculture or fishery products. Stones are rarely seen, so we were suspicious about the freight," Vincent Wong Sui-hang, group head of Customs' Ports and Maritime Command, said.
"After due investigation, we found that the name and address of the importing company were fake, so we detained the shipment for inspection."
The seizure comes after similar hauls in October and November. But officials yesterday denied that Hong Kong is becoming a regional hub for the illegal trade, saying that statistically there has been no obvious increase in ivory seizures over the past few years.
Wong said there were three such cases in 2010, four in 2011 and two last year. "Because the last two cases in 2012 were just in the past few months, people may have the impression that there were many cases," he said.
Wong said the market for ivory in Hong Kong was not big and the haul would probably have been shipped on to nearby regions, including the mainland.
The container had 16 crates, with the five containing the ivory placed in the middle, surrounded by crates containing stone.
In November 2011, 1.3 tonnes of ivory, worth an estimated HK$10.65 million, was found in the middle of a container of sunflower seeds shipped from Tanzania. In October 2011, a 3.8-tonne haul, valued at more than HK$27 million, was seized in two shipments from Kenya and Tanzania.