The HK$18 million boats helping Hong Kong take on the smugglers

Chris Lau

Two high-speed boats used by Hong Kong customs officers have already helped net HK$78 million worth of smuggled goods since they came into operation in May, the department has said.

Called into action 10 times, the two bespoke pursuit craft – known simply as C15 and C16 –stopped smugglers trafficking goods ranging from electronic gadgets to luxury frozen meat, said Chan Tsz-tat, assistant commissioner of the Customs and Excise Department.

“For our colleagues carrying out their duty at sea, [the new boats] make their law enforcement work safer, more efficient and more convenient,” said Chan, who held a demonstration to showcase the vessels’ abilities on Monday.

He gave the commendation days after the two mainland Chinese-assembled vessels, each costing HK$18 million (US$2.3 million), were joined by another pair, named C17 and C18, on December 18. The four-strong fleet is meant to replace a quartet of older vehicles, to be retired after 16 years’ service.

Chan Tsz-tat said his department’s officers had often struggled against smugglers’ nimble speedboats. Photo: Dickson Lee

The vessels are generally used to chase boats being used to smuggle things in or out of the city – often to the mainland – by traders looking to avoid paying export duties, most commonly electrical goods or expensive food items.

Designed by the Swede Petter Hakanson, the new models are powered by Rolls-Royce engines and have joystick control, allowing officers to speed up, brake and turn sharply like never before, in pursuits previously considered impossible with their predecessors, which relied on propellers and steering wheels.

They can hit to a top speed of 55 nautical miles per hour – or about 102km/h – in 40 seconds, reaching any corner of Hong Kong waters in 45 minutes.

They can rotate on the spot and move sideways when docking, making it easier for officers to approach suspect vessels. Chan and his commanders said they were also more fuel-efficient than the older models, and had night-vision cameras.

The retiring vessels could only hit 91km/h and had none of the newly added functions.

The customs department got funding to replace the four old vessels in 2015, saying they had almost exceeded their expected service years.

Chan said that they had often struggled against smugglers’ nimble speedboats.

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“In terms of speed, we need to catch up with them. But not only are we competing with them on speed, we also need to improve our control,” he said.

During an operation in May, Chan said, officers took up an ambush position further from their target than they would have previously, lessening their chances of detection, knowing that the boost in speed would help them make up the distance. They successfully busted a fishing boat smuggling HK$1.6 million worth of high-value food ingredients out of Hong Kong from the shore of Sha Chau, an island to the city’s west.

And in October, officers in the new vessels made the biggest smuggling bust of the year, involving electronic goods with a total value of HK$20 million.

The newer boats are controlled by joysticks, rather than steering wheels. Photo: Dickson Lee

Last month, officers intercepted four fishing boats carrying 540 tonnes of frozen meat estimated to cost some HK$50 million. It was the most serious case involving frozen meat in the past 10 years.

As of Monday, Customs had made 54 busts involving HK$163 million worth of smuggled goods in 2019, a value already exceeding the whole of last year, when 63 cases snared goods valued at HK$151 million.

This article The HK$18 million boats helping Hong Kong take on the smugglers first appeared on South China Morning Post

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