Customs officers made their biggest seizure in five years from a commercial vessel in the Pearl River Delta after finding HK$60 million in contraband goods.
The haul included branded electronics and endangeredspecies products used in traditional Chinese medicine on which the smugglers were seeking to evade more than HK$14 million in duties.
Acting on intelligence, officers intercepted the ship, known as a river trade vessel, shortly after it set off from Black Point in Tuen Mun for Humen in Guangdong on Thursday. They escorted the vessel to the River Trade Terminal in Tuen Mun, where X-rays revealed illicit goods hidden in three containers on board.
No arrests were made, as initial investigations showed that neither the vessel's owner nor the seven other people on board were involved in the crime, officers said.
"This case involves different types of products, from electronic goods such as tablet computers, integrated circuits and hard disks to endangered-species parts that are used mainly in Chinese medicine," said Lam Yau-tak, divisional commander for special investigations of the Customs and Excise Department's Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau.
Despite the size of the haul, Lam said the department had not seen a rising trend of smuggling.
The undeclared cargo included 4,200 cameras and lenses, 6,200 tablet computers, 42,000 computer hard disks, 165,000 liquid-crystal-display panels, 7,800 computer motherboards and 900,000 integrated circuits.
The electronic products were worth HK$59.1 million and included goods made by Apple, Samsung, Canon, Nikon, Fuji and Toshiba. Officers also seized 200kg of endangered-species products including ivory, pangolin scales and dried sea horse with a total value of HK$900,000.
The contraband was camouflaged behind about 180 bags of industrial-use polyethylene balls near the doors of the three 45-foot containers, the department said. The polyethylene balls occupied only 10 per cent of the space inside the containers.
Officers are seeking the person in charge of the ferry piers involved, the consignor and consignee of the haul.
"It is possible that some people or logistics companies collect illicit goods from local customers and then transport them to the mainland through their smuggling channels," Lam said. "This is one of the main directions our investigations is taking."
The offence of exporting unmanifested cargo carries a penalty of up to seven years in jail and a HK$2-million fine.
In October 2008, customs cracked the city's largest case of smuggling on a river trade vessel, also in Tuen Mun. The haul, worth HK$200 million, included ginseng, precious metals and electronic components.