Illicit Cigarettes – Hong Kong customs intercepts four shipping containers

Photo: Winson Wong

Hong Kong customs has uncovered HK$85 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in the largest seizure of its kind in two decades, after authorities acted on intelligence indicating a syndicate was shipping the haul into the city in four containers.

Some 31 million cigarettes were stashed in the containers from Yokohama in Japan. They were then shipped through different ports in South Korea, Vietnam and mainland China, according to Lee Hoi-man, deputy head of the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau under customs.

He said the circuitous route was used by smugglers to avoid detection.

“The containers were shipped into three to four different ports before they came to Hong Kong,” Lee said adding that the contents listed on import documents were changed to throw off law enforcement in various jurisdictions.

Four men – one mainlander and three Hongkongers – aged between 24 and 41 were arrested in the operation on Monday. They were still being held for questioning on Tuesday evening.

Information on the containers was shared to a global database operated jointly by customs from different countries, under an anti-smuggling campaign code-named “Project Crocodile”.

A law enforcement source said the containers were left idle at another port since December, but were then suddenly moved across different countries before arriving in Hong Kong, one at a time since last Friday.

Lee said: “It is possible smugglers believed our frontline officers were tied up in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” He added that some of the contraband items were believed to be destined for countries in eastern Europe as some cigarette brands seized in the operation were popular there.

Hong Kong customs began investigating the syndicate in mid-December before identifying the four containers.

On Monday afternoon, officers from the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau swooped into action and seized 22 million sticks of cigarettes stashed in three containers at yards in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and Man Kam To, arresting the four men.

At the Sheung Shui site, officers also seized 3,500 bottles of duty-not-paid liquor worth HK$2.5 million.

On Tuesday, the fourth container which had arrived from Shenzhen a day before was selected for inspection. Nine million cigarettes were found in it.

Lee said the combined haul had an estimated street value of HK$85 million, and was the biggest seizure of its kind in two decades in a single operation.

He said his team was working with overseas counterparts to determine the exact origin of the shipment and track down the ring leader and core syndicate members.

In Hong Kong, importing or exporting unmanifested cargo carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.

Source: Article by Clifford Lo, South Morning Post, 18 February 2020

Adoption of container tracking will accelerate in the coming years

According to a new research report from Berg Insight, the number of active remote container tracking units deployed on inter-modal shipping containers was 77,000 in Q4-2011. Growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 66.9 percent, this number is expected to reach 1.0 million by 2016. The penetration rate of remote tracking systems in the total population of containers is estimated to increase from 0.4 percent in 2011 to 3.6 percent in 2016. Berg Insight’s definition of a real-time container tracking solution is a system that incorporates data logging, satellite positioning and data communication to a back-office application.

The market for container tracking solutions is still in its early stage. Aftermarket solutions mounted on high value cargo and refrigerated containers will be the first use cases to adopt container tracking. Orbcomm has after recent acquisitions of Startrak and PAR LMS emerged as the largest vendor of wireless container tracking devices with solutions targeting refrigerated containers. Qualcomm, ID Systems and Telular are prominent vendors focusing on inland transportation in North America, which is so far the most mature market for container tracking solutions. PearTrack Systems, Honeywell Global Tracking, EPSa and Kirsen Global Security are examples of companies offering dedicated solutions targeting the global end-to-end container transport chain.

Ever since the events of 9/11, there have been a lot of activities to bring container tracking solutions to the market according to the report. Only now technology advancement, declining hardware prices and market awareness are starting to come together to make remote container tracking solutions attractive. Container telematics can help supply chain operators to comply with regulations and meet the high demands on security, information visibility and transportation efficiency that comes with global supply chains. Source: Berg Insight