‘Guerrilla tactics’ at sea: Smugglers make bold comeback after crackdown on frozen meat speedboat trade from Hong Kong to mainland China

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Smugglers have used “guerrilla tactics” to transport frozen meat from Hong Kong to mainland China on speedboats in a daring comeback despite rampant trade crackdowns, police sources say.

The change in strategy came after the authorities stepped up the fight against these illegal maritime operations, following the death of a policeman in a high-speed sea chase in September.

A source said the triads behind the smuggling at sea were moving their “floating godowns” from the city’s northwest to the waters off Lamma Island, and were operating on a smaller scale.

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He added that smugglers were using barges as floating warehouses to store frozen meat, before speedboats entered the city’s waters from the mainland to pick up the goods.

The source said the new strategy only covered three barges and around 10 speedboats operating at night, compared to the rampant activity in mid-2021 during which more than 20 barges and more than 100 speedboats were deployed by criminals.

But he added that the gangs could deliver up to 100 tonnes of frozen meat per day to the mainland, as each speedboat was around 15 meters long and could be loaded with up to 10 tonnes of cargo.

“Smugglers are now using ‘guerrilla tactics’ to try to avoid detection and arrest in response to crackdown by police and customs officials,” the source said.

“They had used riverboats as part of our efforts against smuggling speedboats. As we stepped up enforcement measures to intercept these cargo ships for inspection, they then resumed the use of speedboats earlier this month to deliver frozen meat across the border. “

Currently, gangs are believed to deliver frozen meat to cargo loading areas such as Tsuen Wan and Tsing Yi, and then move the meat packages on barges that navigate the waters about 2 km from the island of Lamma. The location is about 8 km from the maritime border with the mainland.

The source said the intelligence suggested that three to four barges carrying frozen meat were typically towed to the area after sunset.

“The investigation reveals that a dozen speedboats equipped with four to six outboard motors enter Hong Kong waters from the mainland every night and dock next to these barges to pick up the goods before returning to the territory. Chinese, ”he said.

“They also have lookouts at sea. They will stop their smuggling operations once they spot our patrol launches.

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In the past two weeks, police have intercepted three speedboats, arresting two men from the mainland and seizing more than 20 tons of frozen meat.

In one of the cases, two speedboats were seen heading for the sea border after picking up packages of frozen meat from one of the barges off Lamma Island last Friday evening. Law enforcement boats were deployed to give chase.

During the chase, a smuggler abandoned his speedboat equipped with six outboard motors, hopping on an accompanying rowboat that sped towards the mainland. The police seized the abandoned boat with HK $ 500,000 in meat.

Another source said the demand for frozen meat on the mainland and the baiting of big profits had attracted maritime couriers to lead illegal cross-border operations despite the strengthened enforcement measures in place.

A speedboat with six outboard motors and HK $ 500,000 worth of frozen meat seized as part of an anti-smuggling operation.  Photo: Handout

He said frozen meat was subject to import tariffs on the mainland of up to 90 percent of its value, with the smuggling operations designed to evade the mainland’s import tariffs and restrictions.

Enforcement agencies will step up patrols and actions against these illegal activities, according to the insider, who added that authorities would also continue to target sources of contraband goods by tracking down warehouses used to store contraband.

Five months ago, more than 20 barges were carrying frozen meat daily and docked near Lung Kwu Chau in northwest Hong Kong waters.

The second source said more than 100 speedboats typically congregate under the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge at the sea border with the mainland to wait for orders every night. They entered Hong Kong waters to pick up goods from barges before rushing to loading docks on the mainland.

After Chief Inspector Lam Yuen-yee was killed in a high-speed chase during an anti-smuggling operation in September, sightings of smuggler speedboats declined and there are had no seizures of frozen meat during maritime operations in October.

Lam’s death prompted Hong Kong and mainland authorities to step up the fight against cross-border maritime smuggling.

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Hong Kong authorities seized more than 70 speedboats suspected of being used for cross-border smuggling in October and November.

To target sources of contraband goods, police raided two container yards in the New Territories for two weeks last month, seizing a total of 7,300 tonnes of frozen meat worth more than $ 2, HK $ 5 billion that may have gone to the mainland.

Customs officials seized 100 tonnes of frozen meat worth around HK $ 5 million on Wednesday last week after they intercepted a cargo ship off Telegraph Bay in Cyberport for inspection in an anti-smuggling operation .

Agents from the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau are also keeping a close watch on the Triad-controlled contraband gangs in the city.

On Monday, officers clashed with one of the gangs that took over a Tsing Yi shipyard and held a party to celebrate its opening. During the raid, police fined 62 participants totaling HK $ 310,000 under social distancing laws in place for the Covid-19 pandemic.

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