900 kg of live lobsters seized in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong customs officers seized nearly 900 kilograms of live lobsters on a speedboat on Monday night, as authorities step up a crackdown on the smuggling of Australian rock lobsters into mainland China.

With relations between the two countries strained, China has restricted imports of several Australian products.

Among them are lobsters, a sought-after delicacy in mainland China.

Imports of Australian rock lobsters to Hong Kong -- which has no such restrictions -- have since skyrocketed, with suspicions that the vast majority end up on mainland tables.

On Monday night, 890 kilograms of live lobsters and about 930 kilograms of sea cucumbers were found on a double-engined speedboat trying to leave harbour on the south of Hong Kong Island under cover of darkness, according to Lui Siu-fai, a divisional commander with the city's customs department.

The origins of the seafood were still under investigation, he told a press briefing on Tuesday.

The city's customs chief last month dubbed smuggled Australian lobsters "a national security threat", vowing to crack down on the trade.

Since Beijing's unofficial ban took effect in October last year, exports of Australian lobsters to Hong Kong have soared -- from a total monthly value of US$426,000 to a peak of more than US$19 million in June this year, data from Australia's Fisheries Research and Development Corporation showed.

From July to September, Hong Kong and mainland authorities seized 5,300 kilograms of smuggled Australian lobsters, worth around US$540,000, arresting 13 people.

Last month, 228 tonnes of smuggled Australian lobsters with an estimated market value of HK$180 million (US$23.1 million) were seized from raids of several importers in Hong Kong, and seven men were arrested.

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