Smuggling of Aussie rock lobsters a security threat, says HK Customs chief

HONG KONG • Rampant smuggling of Australian rock lobsters into mainland China is a national security threat, Hong Kong's new Customs chief said as she vowed to crack down on the trade.

Lobsters are one of a number of products from Australia that China has restricted imports of as relations between the two countries plunged. But they remain a prized delicacy in mainland China.

Imports of Australian rock lobsters to Hong Kong - which has no restrictions on the crustaceans - have since sky-rocketed, with suspicions that the majority ended up on tables in the mainland.

Ms Louise Ho was announced as the city's new Customs commissioner yesterday, the first woman to hold the position.

During her inaugural press conference, she explained why lobsters are one of her priorities when it comes to safeguarding China's national security.

"On the surface, it is a simple matter of smuggling lobsters, but these activities undermine our country's trade restrictions against Australia," Ms Ho told reporters.

"Stopping lobster smuggling is a very important part of protecting national security, so we will pursue it diligently."

Smuggling goods by speedboat has been a mainstay of organised crime gangs operating on both sides of the border for years, but the phenomenon has surged during the coronavirus pandemic.

Police embarked on a crackdown after a marine officer was killed last month when her vessel was rammed by smugglers during a high-speed chase.

Recent speedboat smuggling busts have netted items such as luxury watches, handbags, shoes, cosmetics, wines, whisky, cigars and endangered animal parts.

Last week, the Hong Kong and mainland authorities seized 5,300kg of smuggled Australian lobsters worth about US$540,000 (S$727,000) and held 13 people.

In June, Bloomberg reported that Hong Kong had become the world's largest importer of Australian lobsters, with monthly trade growing more than 2,000 per cent from October last year to April.

Ms Ho also said Customs officials will actively block the inflow of anti-government propaganda at the border, even if the content looks innocuous.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last year, seeking to punish what it sees as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2021, with the headline 'Smuggling of Aussie rock lobsters a security threat, says HK Customs chief'. Subscribe