The captain of a container ship belonging to shipping company APL has been charged over allegedly not having a required licence when his vessel stopped in Hong Kong with nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles last November.
Pan Xuejun, 39, did not enter a plea at the West Kowloon Magistrate Court yesterday.
The Chinese national faces one count of importing strategic commodities without the necessary licence. He was allowed bail of HK$50,000 (S$9,010), and his case has been adjourned to May 19.
Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department said in a statement on Wednesday that it has "sufficient evidence to prove" that both APL and Pan had breached the law.
If convicted, Pan could face a fine and up to seven years in jail.
APL is understood to be also facing prosecution. But an APL spokesman, in response to a query from The Straits Times yesterday, said the company "has yet to receive any summons".
The court heard that on Nov 23 last year, Pan was the captain of a vessel transporting the Singapore- made Terrex infantry carriers back to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan. The ship stopped in Hong Kong without an import licence issued by the city's Director- General of Trade and Industry. This led Customs officials to seize the Terrex vehicles.
According to the Hong Kong Customs authorities, all vessels must fully declare all cargo on board before docking at its port. Generally, cargo in transit does not require an "import or export licence" as it will remain at all times on the ship. However, such a licence will be required for "certain type of strategic commodities", said its spokesman.
The vehicles were kept in a Customs indoor storage facility for two months while investigations were carried out.
Citing Customs sources, FactWire news agency reported that the shipment was first found not to possess the relevant permit at Xiamen's Haitian Container Terminals, where the vessel transited after leaving Kaohsiung in south Taiwan.
A retired captain who used to work for APL told The Straits Times in an earlier interview that it was not the first time an APL vessel carrying Singapore-bound military equipment had transited in Hong Kong. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he was surprised the relevant documentation was not done as electronic submissions would allow such a lapse to be rectified very quickly.
In January, the Hong Kong authorities said they had completed their investigations and would release the Terrex vehicles to Singapore.
They said the Singapore Government could not be held responsible for the breach as it was only the consignee of the military vehicles.
The Terrex vehicles arrived in Singapore on Jan 30.