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Hong Kong customs seize $1.37 million worth of ivory tusks

posted 4 Jan 2013, 03:11 by Mpelembe   [ updated 4 Jan 2013, 03:12 ]

Hong Kong customs seizes nearly 800 pieces of ivory tusks worth more than a million U.S. dollars from a shipping container.

 HONG KONGCHINA (JANUARY 4, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Hong Kong customs said at a news conference on Friday (January 4) that they had confiscated nearly 800 pieces of illegal African ivory tusks worth 1.37 million U.S. dollars (10.6 million Hong Kong dollars).

Customs uncovered on Thursday (January 3) a total of 779 tusks -- many chopped into segments -- inside an imported shipping container sent from Malaysia, originating inKenya.

The tusks were hidden in wooden boxes beneath layers of material used in construction, such as slabs and stones.

They weighed a total of 1,323 kilogrammes.

It was the third major seizure of illegal ivory tusks in the busy sea port in recent months.

Hong Kong saw its largest confiscation of illicit ivory from Kenya and Tanzania, worth 3.5 million U.S. dollars (26.7 million Hong Kong dollars) last October.

Less than one month later, it found 1.4 million U.S. dollars (10.6 million Hong Kongdollars) worth of ivory in a container from Tanzania.

But Hong Kong officials stressed these were isolated cases.

Vincent Wong, group head of Ports and Maritime Command of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department, said in Friday's news conference that the city had only seen only two cases of ivory haul last year, four in 2011 and three the year before.

"Actually, in the cases, there is no intelligence and no information suggesting that there is an increasing trend of smuggling ivory tusks detected," Wong said.

Hong Kong was a major importer, trader and manufacturer of ivory carvings, crafts and other products before the international trade in ivory was banned in 1990.

When asked whether mainland China was a potential destination for the African ivory, Wong said smugglers would sell them to the regions with the highest demand.

"We do not have any concrete information or intelligence suggesting that there is a particular country or region they will send these ivory tusks. Because these ivory tusks, after they are crafted, they are high-value goods. The smugglers will destine these ivory goods to places that they can make a profit. They will sell these to the regions or places," Wong said.

Wong told media that the investigation was ongoing and that no arrests had been made.

Under Hong Kong laws, the highest punishment for trading endangered species is two years behind bars and a maximum fine of 645,000 U.S. dollars, (five million Hong KongDollars).

The sentence for importing unmanifested cargo is seven years imprisonment and a fine of 258,000 U.S. dollars (two million Hong Kong dollars).