South Africa orders ship back from Hong Kong
Two ships deployed in services between South Africa and Asia are being forced to return to South Africa after investigators found them carrying abalone that criminals were smuggling out of the country.
One ship was only a day out of Hong Kong, a three-week voyage from Cape Town, where investigators believe the shellfish was loaded, when its agents were served with a detention order that legally compelled the vessel to return to South Africa. It arrived in Cape Town on Saturday.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) confiscated 1.6 tons (28,764 individual animals) of abalone (perlemoen) with an estimated value of 4 million rand ($550,000), from the ship over the weekend.
Adrian Lackay, a spokesman for SARS, said the container shipping company was cooperating with SARS, but that South Africa was insisting the ship return to South Africa because of concerns the cargo might disappear if it landed in Hong Kong, and because authorities need the seafood as evidence to prosecute the case.
Lackay said SARS is not identifying the steamship line involved, but press reports and a person close to the investigation confirmed the ship was the Ambassador Bridge, a 4,228-TEU vessel employed in a seven-vessel string operated by 'K' Line, PIL-Pacific International Line, and MISC between Asia and South Africa.
Lackay said another ship is also being forced to return to the country and is expected to arrive later this week.
SARS said this was only the second time in the history of South Africa law enforcement that a shipping vessel suspected of carrying illicit goods was forced to return to the country for inspection after SARS issued a detention order under the terms of the Customs and Excise Act. In October 2006, Lackay said a ship with a shipment of seven tons of abalone with a value of about 11 million rand (1.5 million) was forced to return to port and the cargo seized.
SARS investigators were joined by the South African Police Services (SAPS) and investigators from South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in detaining and searching the containers.
Lackay said vessels destined for Hong-Kong were carrying abalone that was poached off the South African coastline. He said abalone poaching and smuggling is a persistent problem in the waters between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth that organized crime is involved in both the Far East and in South Africa. In South Africa, poachers are sometimes paid with crystal methamphetamine instead of cash.
Abalone can be shipped frozen or in dried form to the Far East and is smuggled out of the country on both ships and aircraft. If dried, it is reconstituted on arrival in the Far East and generally sold as a canned, luxury product.
SARS said it had established that the suspects involved in the case had ordered a third container to be used for another export of abalone from South Africa, but the order had been canceled after SARS issued the detention orders. ' Chris Dupin