Customs arrest four in HK$120m sea smuggling bust

Customs officers say they have seized goods worth HK$120 million in their biggest ever bust of a speedboat smuggling operation.

Items including luxury bags and parts from endangered animals were being loaded onto a boat near Lau Fau Shan last Wednesday when Customs took action.

The smugglers at the scene sped off in a boat into mainland waters and got away. But officers later arrested four people, aged between 35 and 62, after raiding three warehouses and a residential unit in the New Territories.

Mark Woo, the head of Customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau, said the smugglers were well organised, even using drones to look out for the authorities.

“The syndicates carried out very sophisticated counter surveillance activity on our officers. They employed several speedboats to patrol in the western waters, and they also sent some syndicate members to check the area of the surrounding of the loading point in Lau Fau Shan,” Woo said.

The department’s assistant commissioner, Chan Tsz-tat, said they believed the goods seized were to be sold on the mainland. He said smugglers are taking to the sea because transport by road is now trickier, due to the pandemic.

“Because of Covid-19, passenger flow between Hong Kong and the mainland is effectively halted. In the past, lots of these luxury goods were delivered from Hong Kong to mainland China by tourists or passengers, but they cannot do it under the pandemic. Smuggling rings have no other means but to resort to smuggling by sea mode,” he said.

Officers said that across the first half of this year, they seized smuggled goods worth a total of HK$420 million, compared to HK$180 million in the first half of 2020.