Hong Kong authorities seize more than 230 tonnes of endangered wood this year – five times that of last year’s total
- Rising demand for high-end furniture in housing developments across mainland cities in region contributing to black market
- Items comprise rosewood and red sandalwood, valued at almost HK$23 million
Hong Kong authorities confiscated more than 230 tonnes of endangered wood from Central America and South Asia between January and November this year, about five times that of last year’s total haul.
The shipments, meant to be imported into mainland China, were intercepted in the city. The rare wood was likely to be used for high-end furniture to meet demand from housing developments in mainland cities in the region, the Post learned.
Over 11 months this year, customs officers thwarted nine wood smuggling cases with the seizures of 225.9 tonnes of rosewood worth HK$16 million and 5.7 tonnes of red sandalwood worth HK$6.9 million.
The biggest haul was made last month when law enforcers discovered 83 tonnes of Guatemalan rosewood hidden in three shipping containers from Panama.
According to customs, the other shipments came from Honduras and Guatemala in Central America, and Jakarta, Malaysia and Thailand in Southeast Asia.
Sources familiar with the matter said investigation indicated all the wood was bound for the mainland and intended for use in the manufacture of luxury furniture and carvings.
In the whole of last year, more than 47 tonnes of red sandalwood worth over HK$31 million was seized. But no rosewood was found.
Red sandalwood and rosewood are listed as endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
One source said some red sandalwood, also known as “red gold” for its high value, were usually shipped into Dubai or Malaysia from India before being smuggled into mainland China – sometimes through Hong Kong.
“Red sandalwood with an average log weight of 30kg to 35kg is classified as grade A and can be bought for less than US$33,000 per tonne in India,” one source said.
“After being smuggled into mainland China, importers can sell it for US$120,000 per tonne on the black market.”
He said the wood in random sizes was classified as grade C, and could be bought for US$20,000 per tonne in Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The source believes a surge in the seizure of endangered wood was the result of high demand for luxury furniture in new housing developments in mainland cities.
An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokeswoman said a permit was needed to import or export endangered wood.
“Offenders of the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance are liable to a maximum fine of HK$10 million and imprisonment of 10 years upon conviction,” she said.
To avoid detention, smugglers used different tactics and changed shipping routes to deliver the precious wood into mainland China, according to another source.
He said sometimes, rare wood was declared to be second-hand furniture and products to throw off authorities.
The Customs and Excise Department said they were committed to fighting smuggling activities and conduct checks on passengers, cargo, postal packets and conveyances at various control points across the city.
The operations are done through intelligence exchange and joint work with local and overseas enforcement agencies.
To further strengthen action against the illegal trade of endangered species, a department spokesman said: “Hong Kong customs has also been participating in the Task Force on Wildlife Crime through working closely with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the Environment Bureau and police to develop strategies and coordinate cross-departmental joint operations.”
Customs hands all seized goods to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department for verification and follow-up action.
The department spokeswoman said the seized wood would be donated to appropriate institutions and organisations for scientific, educational, enforcement, identification or other possible non-commercial purposes.