72 IIs found on boat: Crown

A MAINLAND farmer was caught red-handed trying to smuggle 72 illegal immigrants into Hong Kong in a small wooden boat, the High Court heard yesterday.

Marine Police discovered the IIs crammed in a hold after a helicopter found the Chinese-style vessel sailing without lights near the Ninepin group of islands on March 14 last year, it was claimed.

Chan Hiu-ming, 33, who was said to be steering the boat, was arrested after police towed it into Hong Kong. He has denied one count of smuggling illegal immigrants.

Prosecutor William Lam said officers boarded the vessel, which was listing 10 degrees to port.

''There was bilge water in the engine room and the boat was slightly tilted,'' Mr Lam said. ''It was noted when they searched the wooden vessel that all 72 passengers were in a hold below the main deck with the defendant in the steering room.'' There were no life-jackets, no lifesaving equipment and no flashing device or horn on board the boat to alert other ships, the jury heard.

After his arrest Chan, from Weidong, allegedly told police he had bought the boat for 1,000 yuan (HK$888) the previous month.

Chan, who speaks only the Chiu Chow dialect, was promised 200 yuan for each II by a man named Lo Chun-choi, the jury heard.

The trial before Deputy Judge Jones continues today.