Record 7,2 Tonne Ivory Seizure in Hong Kong

Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tons of ivory from a shipping container arriving from Malaysia on July 4.

The seizure was made at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound, and once its weight is confirmed, the haul could become a record seizure – the largest ever recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database – narrowly surpassing the 7.138 tons seized in Singapore in 2002.

According to a government media release, the consignment was declared as “frozen fish” and the tusks hidden beneath frozen fish cartons.

The massive seizure underlines both Malaysia’s and Hong Kong’s role as key smuggling hubs in the international trafficking of ivory. Three people – a man and two women were arrested in connection with the seizure.

The ETIS database is managed by the NGO TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It contains tens of thousands of elephant-product seizure records dating back to 1989.

Under CITES guidelines, any seizure of 500kg or more is considered indicative of the involvement of organized crime. All parties making such large-scale seizures are obliged to examine them forensically as part of follow-up investigations.

Dr Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for East Asia, said, “No doubt Hong Kong’s geographic location coupled with the currently relatively lenient penalties in place for anyone convicted of wildlife crime are reasons behind the shipment coming through the port. The case for increasing penalties has never been stronger.”

Hong Kong is currently reviewing its legislation regarding wildlife crime and the Legislative Council is currently debating plans to phase out the territory’s domestic ivory trade over the next five years, a timescale that is out of step with neighboring mainland China which intends to end its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. Source: Maritime Executive/TRAFFIC/HongKong Government – Photo’s: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

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Hong Kong Customs seizes 1.1m sticks of illicit cigarettes worth $3.1m

securityHong Kong Customs mounted a special operation at Lok Ma Chau Control Point to combat organised cigarette smuggling activities. About 1.1 million sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes with a market value of about $3.1 million and duty potential of about $2.2 million were seized. A 52-year-old male driver was arrested and the vehicle used for conveying the suspected illicit cigarettes was detained.

Customs officers here the other day intercepted an incoming container truck declared to be empty at Lok Ma Chau Control Point.

After X-ray examination and thorough inspection by Customs officers, about 1.1 million sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes in 83 carton boxes were found inside a false compartment of the container. The cigarettes were sorted and packed according to orders placed with a view to quick delivery to buyers.

A Customs spokesman said today (June 5), “The operation showed the effectiveness of the enforcement strategy, especially the escalated enforcement actions against smuggling activities at source. Customs will continue to carry out stringent enforcement action against all illicit cigarette activities.”

Under the Import and Export Ordinance, smuggling is a serious offense. The maximum penalty is a fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years. Source: CustomsToday

New Zealand Customs ‘Cash Dogs’ go International

Detector Dog Rajax demonstrates his cash-sniffing abilities during training at a NZ Customs facility

Detector Dog Rajax demonstrates his cash-sniffing abilities during training at a NZ Customs facility

Customs Minister Nicky Wagner today welcomed a new partnership between New Zealand, Hong Kong and Chinese Customs to develop cash detector dog capabilities in the region.

Officials from Hong Kong Customs and the General Administration of China Customs’ Anti-Smuggling Bureau have been in Auckland to learn how drug dogs are trained to detect cash, so they can progress similar programmes in their own Customs administrations.

“It’s fantastic we’re able to assist Hong Kong and China to build this special capability, as detecting undeclared or hidden cash is an increasing priority for many Customs authorities as evidence shows following the money trail can lead to cracking serious organised crime such as drug smuggling.

“Having Hong Kong and China Customs detector dogs sniff both drugs and cash will disrupt drug smuggling and money laundering by transnational syndicates, with flow-on benefits for us in New Zealand,” Ms Wagner says

New Zealand shares formal agreements and a close customs-customs operational relationships with both Hong Kong and China, with the agencies working together to target the illicit drug trade through cross-border efforts.

Officials spent a week getting an overview from Customs’ Source: NZ Government (contributed by M Reddy)

Hong Kong Customs Moves Forward With E-Lock Plans

The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) reports that RFID-based container locks can effectively improve the security, convenience and visibility of the customs process for cargo entering the airport. In November 2011, C&ED began testing three types of electronic locks (e-locks) in order to speed up the process of performing customs checks on containers filled with cargo. The solution, known as the Intermodal Transhipment Facilitation Scheme (ITFS), was implemented as a way to streamline the clearance of cargo passing through customs at Hong Kong International Airport for cargo destined for areas both domestic and outside of Hong Kong. The installation and consulting services were provided by the Hong Kong R&D Center for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies (LSCM), according to Frank Tong, LSCM’s director of research and technology development.

An electronic lock with an active RFID tag is being used to secure freight passing through
customs and Hong Kong International Airport, ensuring that the cargo remains tamper-free,
while also expediting the clearance process.

The Hong Kong C&ED estimates that the system reduces the amount of time required for clearing each container through customs, from two to three hours down to five minutes, since customs officials can now be assured that the containers have not been opened between their inspection at the border control point and their arrival at the airport. What’s more, the agency can now collect a digital record of where each container has been, along with when it was inspected.

Cargo is loaded into freight containers or directly onto trucks—such as those operated by United Parcel Service (UPS)—in Mainland China, and is then transported to a customs control point located at the border with Hong Kong, where C&ED officials inspect the cargo and clear it for entry into Hong Kong. Following that clearance, the shipment continues on to Hong Kong International Airport’s cargo terminal, where the goods are unloaded from the container or vehicle, and are placed into an air cargo container. Once this has occurred, the cargo is moved through another customs control point at the airport, where C&ED again inspects and approves or rejects its passage.

To speed up this process, the R&D Center implemented the use of an e-lock for the customs agency, consisting of a physical lock activated by a built-in active RFID tag, designed to receive a transmission from an RFID reader that allows the lock to be opened or closed. Three types of e-locks are currently being used, provided by three different vendors: Long Sun Logistics Development Ltd, CIMC Intelligent Technology Co. and CelluWare Research Laboratory. Each of the three products employs a different frequency—433 MHz, 315 MHz and 2.4 GHz—but all comply with the ISO 17712 standard for mechanical seals designed for freight containers.

LSCM has installed fixed RFID readers (provided by the three e-lock vendors) at two border control points—Lok Ma Chau and Shenzhen Bay—as well as at Hong Kong International Airport. When a shipment first arrives at either border control point, C&ED’s staff attaches an e-lock, reads the ID number encoded on its built-in RFID tag via a handheld reader, and links that ID with the vehicle registration number of the truck transporting the container. The transporting company must pre-register each vehicle with the Hong Kong C&ED prior to its arrival; the truck’s ID number is listed in the agency’s database, and the customs official can confirm that the vehicle is, in fact, the one expected.

That data, along with the specific cargo being transported, is then stored on the Hong Kong C&ED’s integrated tracking software platform, developed by LSCM, which collects and processes the data and then displays it for customs officials when necessary. The system stores the e-lock ID number linked to the vehicle ID, and transmits instructions to the e-lock, along with a password, thereby causing it to lock. The device also requires a physical key, which remains in the driver’s possession. In this way, two actions must be completed before the container or vehicle can be unlocked: The e-lock must be electronically unlocked via a password from a customs official, and the driver must use a key to physically open the padlock.

The shipment is then transported approximately 42 kilometers (26 miles) to the airport. The e-lock comes with a built-in GPS device that tracks the vehicle’s location as it moves. In that way, the e-lock stores a record of where the vehicle has been. When the lock is later read at the airport, the back-end software compares the actual GPS data against the container’s expected route. The system can issue alerts in circumstances in which an e-lock is found to have lost a GPS signal, or, based on GPS data, the truck appears to have deviated from the intended route.

At Hong Kong International Airport, a C&ED official either selects the container for inspection, or simply instructs the system to issue an unlocking command with the matching password; the container is then brought to a site where the cargo is removed and then loaded onto an aircraft, says Steve Wai-chiu Chan, a C&ED special duties officer. If the container is selected for inspection, the e-lock remains locked. In this scenario, a truck driver would be instructed to await a C&ED officer, and would be unable to unlock the container without providing the proper password. The C&ED officer, upon arrival, would then use a handheld device to read the e-lock, instructing it to unlock by providing the necessary password.

LSCM installed a total of 38 readers at the two land border control points, five logistic hubs at the airport and a marine control point known as the Kwai Chung Customhouse, for items arriving by sea (at the Marine Cargo Terminal located at the airport). Altogether, by February of this year, 109 containers had been equipped with the e-lock device. An average of 100,000 consignments pass through the border daily, and the ITFS e-lock system is utilized for about 17 percent of that cargo.

The solution has enabled a faster customs clearance process, as well as providing a digital record of what was unlocked, and thus inspected, and when this occurred. The system also improves security, since only officers who know the proper password can access the container. Ultimately, Chan says, “it enhances the Hong Kong logistic industry’s competency and reinforces Hong Kong’s position as a world-class logistics hub.” Source: RFID Journal and a word of thanks to Andy Brown (Tenacent) for bringing the article to my attention.

The value of risk-based Non-Intrusive Inspection

Rhino horn bust, Hong Kong CustomsOn 14 November 2011 Hong Kong Customs seized 33 rhino horns (weighing 86.54 kg), 758 ivory chopsticks (13.22 kg) and 127 ivory bracelets (9.2 kg) with a value of about 17.4 million Hong Kong dollars (over 1.6 million euro). Acting on risk assessment, a container on board a vessel arriving from Cape Town in South Africa and declared as containing “scrap plastic” was selected for inspection by Customs officers. Under x-ray examination, officers discovered the contraband concealed inside a package of plastic scrap placed at the rear end of the container.

This is one of the biggest seizures of rhino horns reported by Customs. Over the past two years, rhino horns have been seized by Customs in Belgium, China, Ireland, Kenya, Portugal, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Early November statistics from the South Africa National Parks authority show that 341 rhinos have been lost to poaching so far in 2011, compared to a record total of 333 last year. Most rhino horns are smuggled to Asia in particular China and Vietnam, where the unfounded rumour persists that rhino horn can cure cancer! This record seizure follows another made by Hong Kong Customs on 29 August 2011, when 794 pieces of African ivory tusks (1,898 kg) found inside a container were seized. Source: WCO.

A single bust like this invokes a number of things. Firstly an outrage amongst the general populace of the cruelty and greed concerned with the crime, and secondly, elation amongst law enforcement officers in making the bust. A bust such as this reinforces confidence in the initial commitment to procure inspection technology.