Gangs controlled by Hong Kong triads are believed to be behind a massive smuggling operation delivering more than 1,000 tonnes of frozen meat a day to mainland China, the Post has learned. Using dozens of high-powered speedboats, they cross into Hong Kong waters, pick up the contraband and race to delivery points just minutes away on the mainland. Many make several trips a night. In the first six months of this year, Hong Kong authorities seized 138 tonnes of smuggled meat worth HK$21 million (US$2.7 million). They confiscated 3,344 tonnes worth HK$149 million over the whole of last year. Between January and June this year, customs officers stopped about 20 speedboats and arrested nearly 40 people, mostly mainlanders. According to law enforcement sources, the smuggling gangs are believed to be controlled by the city‘s three major triads – Sun Yee On, 14K and Wo Shing Wo – known to be active in drug trafficking, extortion, bookmaking and illegal moneylending. The smuggled frozen meat includes beef, offal, pork knuckles, chicken wings and chicken feet from countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, India, Poland, the United States, Britain and Ukraine. The Post understands that smuggling has increased sharply because frozen meat supplies to the mainland have fallen as a result of stringent import restrictions against some countries, including those that have imposed sanctions against China. A law enforcement source said the number of speedboats involved had nearly doubled from between 40 and 50 earlier this year to as many as 80 now, and they are carrying more expensive cuts of beef rather than offal or chicken parts. In the past, cargo vessels and fishing boats were used, but after the authorities seized HK$149 million worth of frozen meat last year, the smugglers switched to mainly using speedboats this year. Smugglers turbocharging their boats in bid to outrun officers as they race across border Likening the tactic to “ants moving home”, the source said: “These speedboats carry a smaller amount, but can go faster during a sea chase. Using speedboats also reduces the loss in the event of interception by law enforcers.” He said the smugglers are trying to evade stringent import restrictions and hefty mainland taxes that can double the price of the meat. “Intelligence indicates that at least three major triad-controlled, cross-border smuggling syndicates are involved,” he said. “They run a one-stop service that includes buying meat in Hong Kong and from overseas as well as delivery across the border.” According to intelligence gathered by the city’s law enforcement agencies, the syndicates are believed to be using a dozen barges as floating storage and loading centres. Customs makes biggest sea smuggling bust of year, seizing HK$20 million worth of contraband They are stationed in the city’s western waters near Sha Chau, Lung Kwu Chau and west of the construction site for the airport’s third runway, about 2km to 3km from the maritime boundary between Hong Kong and the mainland. The barges are towed in the daytime to public cargo working areas in Yau Ma Tei, Tsing Yi and Tuen Mun, where they are loaded with bags of frozen meat. In the evening, the laden barges wait in Hong Kong’s western waters for the cross-border relay to start. Dozens of speedboats then enter the city’s waters illegally to pick up their goods, with a 14-metre boat able to carry up to 10 tonnes of meat. “We believe it takes about 10 minutes for a speedboat to cross the border, pick up goods from these barges and leave Hong Kong waters,” the source said. He said some boats can make several trips a night because their delivery points are just 15 minutes away in Shekou, or 30 minutes away in Zhuhai, in Guangdong province. “During our recent surveillance, as many as 80 such boats were seen crossing into the city’s waters to pick up goods one night,” the source said. He said the illegal deliveries continued this week, operating from 8pm to 3am daily. It is only a conservative estimate that more than 1,000 tonnes of meat is smuggled every night, he added. Another source said the smugglers began using powerful boats this year to get away faster from Hong Kong police and customs officers. China busts chip smuggling operation from Hong Kong amid semiconductor supply crunch “Most of their boats have four to five outboard engines. It seems they are ready to race against our pursuit craft,” he said. “Some have also been fixed with steel plates at their bow to make them stronger. They are prepared to ram our boats during a sea chase.” Cheng Hing, the former chairman of the Hong Kong Frozen Meat and Seafood Wholesale Retailers Association, said the boom in high-end restaurants on the mainland has pushed up demand and prices there. Heavy mainland tariffs on expensive meat such as steaks from Japan or the US have made it worthwhile for smugglers to take their chances, he said. “The quality of beef from the US and Japan is much better than from the mainland,” he added. A spokesman for the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department said: “Customs officers vigorously conduct checks on passengers, cargo, postal packets and conveyances at various control points and the sea boundary to combat the smuggling of contraband, including smuggled frozen meat.” Customs pounces on smugglers at airport construction site in HK$31 million bust The police force said marine officers deployed vessels to patrol in various areas to stop suspicious boats and help other departments in enforcement action, and responded immediately to complaints of suspected smuggling activity at sea. “The marine police will also maintain close contact and exchange intelligence with relevant law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong and the mainland,” the force added. A source said increased enforcement action against the meat smugglers might have forced some gangs out of business, but others were likely to have stepped in quickly. “If one rooster is dead, another will rise and crow. Many people want to get a share of this high-profit business,” he added.