Philippine Airlines is under renewed pressure to stop transporting shark fins to Hong Kong after a local green group found what it described as a “suspected illegal” shipment in Sheung Wan.
About 100 groups and individuals have given their support to an open letter sent to senior executives of the airline, urging them to publicly commit to ending the trade.
Overall imports of shark fins to Hong Kong fell 35 per cent last year compared with 2012, WWF-Hong Kong says.
The fall comes amid a crackdown by the central government on extravagance and corruption, and pressure by environmental groups to stamp out the trade.
The letter says the airline “directly contradicts” its commitment to sustainable development by allowing carriage of shark fins and related products on flights from Manila to Hong Kong.
It was written after a WildLifeRisk, a Hong Kong conservation group, and FinsAttached, an ocean-advocacy group based in the United States, discovered what they suspected was an illegal shipment of shark fins sent from Dubai by Philippine Airlines.
“Simply put, the tonnes of shark fins transported as cargo into Hong Kong on Philippine Airlines flights are directly leading to the endangerment of shark species and the marine environment in Asia and beyond,” the letter says.
“We need the airline’s help in cutting the supply chain of shark fin to Hong Kong,” it said, demanding that the company to set an “aggressive timetable” to stop carrying shark fins and post as pledge on its website.
The 136 bags of fins with an estimated weight of 6.5 tonnes, were delivered to dried seafood trader Global Marine in Sheung Wan. The company, which also has an office in Tsim Sha Tsui, denied the shipment was illegal.
“We have documents like import or export permits. There is nothing illegal and we have nothing to hide,” said a spokesman who identified himself as Ahamed.
However, Alex Hofford, from WildlifeRisk, said there was “a low chance” the shipment was legal.
He said Dubai was a trans-shipment centre for fins harvested from regions in Africa where enforcement of fishing regulations was ineffective.
He said Philippines Airlines was still active in transporting shark fins from the Middle East, although Emirates stopped such shipments on its route to Hong Kong last June.
“Philippine Airlines fly a lot of migrant workers, such as domestic helpers and nurses to Dubai, and often [the planes] come back empty,” Hofford said.
At least five airlines have followed Cathay Pacific’s example to ban shark fin cargoes on its flights. Korean, Asiana, Qantas and Air New Zealand enforce a blanket ban, while Fiji carrier Air Pacific allows only fins from sustainable and verified sources.
Hofford said Greenpeace activists in Philippines were furious over the shipment to Hong Kong, regarding it as a breach of trust after they met the airline’s executives in March.
Ahamed said Global Marine received regular shipments, usually two to three tonnes each, from Dubai and had used Philippine Airlines from time to time.
He said he was just a wholesaler of shark fins and the imports would be re-sold to anybody who paid for them.
Ahamed said he had no idea what shark species the fins came from.
Alex Anotoniou of FinsAttached said that the fins could be from any of three species -- hammerhead, reef or silky sharks. He suspected the shipment could be small tail fins of baby sharks and it was possible that they might be mixed with scallop hammerhead which was listed as a regulated species in international trade.
Last night, the airline could not be reached to comment on the matter.