FOUR 24-seater buses, which could triple in value if sold on the mainland, were discovered hidden on a China-bound container ship, Customs officers said yesterday. The seizure was the first involving smuggled buses, and may have been part of a deal to supply a public transport fleet. Thirteen luxury cars were also found on the Chinese ship off Western Anchorage. Three men and a woman, believed to be members of the syndicate, were arrested at a Kowloon Bay industrial building and a Yuen Long garage but the key figure, believed to be a mainlander, was still at large last night. 'It is the first time a consignment of the smuggled left-hand drive buses have been seized in the territory,' said Assistant Superintendent Nora Tse Ko Lai-yee, commander of the Customs' General Investigation division. 'The vehicles were bound for China and could become [part of a] public transport fleet on the mainland. There's always demand for public transport in China, especially in developing cities and towns.' Each 24-seater bus costs about $350,000 but could sell for about $1 million in China, said Ms Tse. The operation on Thursday night, mounted by officers from Customs' General Investigation team, netted four Toyota 24-seater buses, three Mercedes, a BMW, five Volkswagens and four Subarus after a seven-day investigation. The left-hand drive cars were discovered inside five containers on board the 4,700-tonne Chinese cargo vessel, Lucky Hover, which was intercepted by a Customs launch off Western Anchorage near Kap Shiu Mun. The 32 mainland crewmen were released and the vessel continued its journey to China last night.