The Hong Kong Customs authorities are set to press charges against shipping company APL and the captain of a container ship for not having the required licence when the vessel stopped in Hong Kong with nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles on board last November.
This led the SAF Terrex infantry carriers to be seized and held in Hong Kong for over two months.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) last night quoted a spokesman for the Customs and Excise Department as saying that following a thorough investigation, the department "has sufficient evidence to prove" that both APL and the ship captain had breached the law.
"Prosecution of the offending parties (shipping agent and master of the vessel) has been instigated today," it said in a statement.
Earlier, SCMP said an investigation completed by the Customs and Excise Department in January found that the Singapore Government could not be held responsible for the breach as it was only the consignee of the military vehicles.
The department was said to have sought legal advice from the Department of Justice about the move to prosecute the shipping firm and its captain.
Last night, an APL spokesman told The Straits Times that the company had not received any official summons and could not comment further. She did not reply when asked whether the captain of the ship had been told he would face charges in Hong Kong.
The Singapore-made Terrex vehicles were being shipped home after they had been used in a military exercise in Taiwan when the APL vessel transited in Hong Kong, where they were seized by Customs officials on Nov 23.
Media reports had said earlier that APL did not have the appropriate permits for the vehicles.
During investigations, the vehicles were kept in a Customs indoor storage facility.
On Jan 24, Singapore's Foreign Ministry said that Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying had replied to an earlier letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to inform him that the Hong Kong authorities had completed their investigations and would release the vehicles and equipment.
Mr Roy Tang, the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, had also issued a statement in response to media inquiries that Hong Kong Customs had completed its investigation of the suspected breach, which "might lead to criminal prosecution".
The Terrex vehicles left the Hong Kong port on Jan 27 on an APL ship and arrived in Singapore three days later.