Craft for catching smugglers are a showpiece, says a senior marine police officer High-speed pursuit craft bought by Hong Kong Customs to hunt speedboat smugglers have been described as 'useless for the task' and a 'fancy showpiece'. A South China Morning Post investigation has uncovered a number of concerns about the operational capability of the vessels, which cost $8 million each and come complete with bunks, stereos and microwave ovens. The two biggest worries are the claims that vessels cannot be deployed for ambush or operated at night because of a design fault; and the enclosed cabin means operators cannot fire flares or tear gas to force smugglers to stop during high-speed pursuits on the open water. Customs officials responding to the claims said some modifications might be needed but the strike boats were still undergoing 'a trial period'. Highly ranked marine police and anti-smuggling experts said the boats' characteristics made them unsuitable for operations against speedboat smugglers. 'This purchase is the result of design by committee. They are completely unsuitable for the task,' one senior officer said. 'The bow rides so high that the operators cannot see anything, which makes them very dangerous to operate in the dark, and the enclosed cabin means they cannot fire flares or tear gas to force the bad guys to stop. 'On the plus side they have a lovely stereo sound system and a microwave as well as top-of-the range suppress seating to absorb the shock of crashing through the waves. But at the end of the day we have got a boat that is completely useless. It is simply a fancy showpiece.' Responding to the concerns, a spokesman for the Customs and Excise Department said: 'In the pursuit of a suspicious targets at sea, customs officers use sirens, spotlights and megaphones for declaration of office and issue of an order to stop. 'In case the target flees, customs officers will intercept it by two or more crafts. That explains why the craft are always deployed in pairs. Depending on the situation, assistance from a patrol launch may also be sought. 'Customs do not have tear gas, which is basically for anti-riot or crowd-control purposes.' Flares are only used for illumination or to signal distress and not to stop a boat, he said. The stereos are for weather reports and the microwave ovens to be used to prepare snacks during 'prolonged sea operations'. He said the ballast tank, central flaps and fender system had been identified as areas necessary for modification. The Italian-built hull is made by luxury boat designer Fabio Buzi. The boats are equipped with two 800 horsepower inboard engines which give them a top speed of 55 knots. Since being deployed in June, the boats have successfully intercepted only one suspected smugglers' vessel - an oil barge that was travelling at 3 knots.