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Hong Kong Record Drug Seizure Reflects Changed Tactics due to Pandemic

record drug smuggling seizure in Hong Kong
Photo courtesy Hong Kong Customs

By The Maritime Executive 11-03-2020 06:05:44

Hong Kong Customs made a record seizure of illegal narcotics at the end of last week being smuggled in a container through the port. While the seizure was notable for its size, officials also said it reflected the impact the pandemic is having on the tactics used by smugglers.

Through a risk assessment, Customs officers said they had determined to examine a 40-feet transshipment container at the Tsing Yi Customs Cargo Examination Compound on October 29. The manifest declared its contents as a consignment of 1,168 bags of cement.

An initial visual inspection of the contents raised suspicions because they noted that approximately a quarter of the bags appeared swollen. Weighing the bags, however, revealed that they were lighter than the others. That lead to an x-ray of the bags which showed suspicious shapes contained within the cement bags.

During the search, Customs officers reported that they found two vacuum-packed cartons hidden in each of the 251 cement-loaded bags in the consignment. Inside each carton, they found two bags, later determined to each be carrying approximately 500 grams methamphetamine, commonly known as "ice."

In total, the authorities seized over 500 kilograms of the drug with an estimated market value of US$39 million. 

Briefing the press in Hong Kong, the customs inspectors said that their suspicions had been raised because of the circuitous routing of the container. The container had originated in Mexico traveling first to South Korea and then on to Vietnam. It remained for three months in Vietnam before reboarding a ship to Hong Kong. It was scheduled to then proceed to Singapore before reaching its final declared destination in Australia.

Customs officials said that they believe the drug smugglers chose this unusual route to avoid customs inspections and surveillance. They also noted that because the pandemic has restricted individuals from traveling the smugglers have been unable to use “mules” to transport the narcotics. As such, they believe the smugglers resorted to larger bulk shipments. Most of the drugs being smuggled they said were traditionally discovered through the use of mules.

Under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, trafficking in a dangerous drug is a serious offense in Hong Kong. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of US$645,000 and life imprisonment.