Two boats caught with 16 tonnes of chicken and offal Customs and marine police made the biggest seizure of smuggled meat in the city's history yesterday - 16 tonnes of chicken wings and beef offal worth HK$18 million. They arrested 15 Hong Kong men, including two registered boat owners, two boat captains and crewmen aged 31 to 69. Officers believed the syndicate stood to double its money if it had successfully smuggled the unmanifested frozen meat, which came from South America, the United States, Britain and Canada, to the mainland. The head of marine enforcement at the Customs and Excise Department, Samson Chiu Yuk-hung, said the ring was cunning. 'They tried to avoid being arrested on several occasions by lying that the goods were to be transported to some remote islands like Ping Chau and claimed that the goods were not for export,' he said. Officers became suspicious on Tuesday when they noted the syndicate unloading cartons of frozen meat from 10 12-metre containers into the holds of two 30-metre cargo vessels at Chai Wan public cargo working area. 'And while knowing that we kept a close eye on the two vessels, they cruised around Hong Kong waters,' Mr Chiu said. Officers moved in and made the arrests when the two vessels tried to leave Hong Kong waters yesterday afternoon, he said. Officers from the marine police and Government Flying Service also took part in the operation, Mr Chiu said. The 15 arrested comprised six men from the two vessels, which were originally fishing boats, one man from a nearby sampan and eight men from on land. Mr Chiu described the syndicate as very irresponsible. 'Frozen meat has to be stored in cold temperatures or it will go bad easily. But then the syndicate repackaged the meat in an open area [in Chai Wan on Tuesday] and then loaded the meat into the vessels without any refrigerating facilities, where the hygiene condition was very bad,' he said. 'Imagine if the meat were smuggled into the mainland successfully. That meat was stored in such condition for three days already. It would definitely cause health problems to people consuming it.' Asked what would motivate such a smuggling operation, the superintendent of the small boat division of the marine police, John Cameron, said: 'The main reasons would be to avoid tax and the importation limitations on the mainland.' Mr Chiu added the custom fees and valued-added tax for the shipment would be HK$5 million. 'What is more, there are stringent health monitoring measures on the mainland for offal. This frozen meat might not be able to enter the mainland under formal procedures,' he said. Mr Cameron noted the seizure was the city's biggest of smuggled frozen meat. The previous biggest was in October last year when HK$1 million worth of frozen meat was seized by marine police at a Chai Wan pier.