Singapore Terrex troop carriers case: Shipping firm APL, captain fined in HK

The SAF's Terrex vehicles at the PSA Pasir Panjang terminal. They had been impounded by Hong Kong and were returned to the Singapore Government on Jan 26, 2017, after investigations wrapped up.
The SAF's Terrex vehicles at the PSA Pasir Panjang terminal. They had been impounded by Hong Kong and were returned to the Singapore Government on Jan 26, 2017, after investigations wrapped up.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

More than two years after nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles worth HK$136.6 million (S$24 million) were seized in Hong Kong, a court in the territory imposed fines yesterday on both the shipping firm APL and ship captain Pan Xuejun for their roles in the case.

The District Court judge ordered APL to pay a fine of HK$90,000, while Pan was fined HK$9,000 and given a suspended jail term of three months. Singapore-based APL and Pan were found guilty yesterday of importing strategic commodities without the necessary licence.

This came after a two-week trial that began in October last year.

Both the shipping firm and captain had denied breaching the Import and Export Ordinance, which carries a maximum sentence of a seven-year jail term and an unlimited fine.

In delivering his decision, Judge Stanley Chan said the firm and the captain would have known that the containers carried the Terrex troop carriers, but they had failed to notify Hong Kong Customs officials or get the proper licence.

He rejected the defence that the two were unaware that the military vehicles were on board the vessel, as the receiver was Singapore's Ministry of Defence and the sender was Taiwan. The information would have indicated the nature of the cargo.

Local media reported the judge as saying the military vehicles "could not be stored in a normal container, but a flat rack container".

Although a large canvas covered the vehicles, "the tyres could still be seen, which could not be covered entirely", so someone would have seen them.

Pan, a Chinese national, was the captain of the APL vessel which was transporting the nine Singapore-made Terrexes back to the Republic after a military exercise in Taiwan in November 2016.

The ship, APL Qatar, docked at Terminal 8 of Kwai Chung Container Port at 8.32am on Nov 23, 2016.

The court was told that Hong Kong Customs officials had checked their database, but the shipment documentation failed to mention that the containers housed the military vehicles, considered "strategic commodities".

APL staff were later questioned, and the firm produced a document that described the goods inside the containers as "vehicles".

In Hong Kong, "strategic commodities" must have a licence to be imported, issued by the city's director-general of trade and industry, which APL and Pan did not have. This led to Hong Kong officials impounding the Terrex vehicles.

The vehicles were returned to the Singapore Government on Jan 26, 2017, after investigations wrapped up.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Defence said the court proceedings and verdict are a matter between APL and the Hong Kong authorities, in accordance with the due process of the Hong Kong law.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline 'Shipping firm APL, captain fined in HK'. Print Edition | Subscribe