On 11 May 2018, Sea Shepherd Hong Kong discovered a 980 kg shipment of shark fins arriving from Sri Lanka for Win Lee Fung Ltd in Hong Kong, on a Singapore Airlines flight. Along with other carriers, Singapore Airlines had already banned the transport of shark fins on all its routes, but smugglers continue to exploit loopholes in customs procedures.
“Singapore Airlines are yet another victim of these shark fin smugglers, who deceived the airline by declaring the shipment as ‘dried seafood’ to skirt the airlines internal booking checks,” said Gary Stokes, Asia Director for Sea Shepherd Global.
Last year Sea Shepherd Global carried out a three-month investigation in Hong Kong and discovered shipments from Maersk, Virgin Australia Cargo and Cathay Pacific, all victims of shark fin smugglers using descriptions such as 'Dried Seafood' or 'Marine Products'.
Even worse is the fact that Sea Shepherd found Whale Shark fins and possibly Oceanic Whitetip fins among this latest shipment, both protected species requiring an export permit from CITES Sri Lanka.
Large 980kg shipment of shark fins arriving from Sri Lanka
The use of vague descriptions also puts these shipments further down the priority list for the over-stretched Hong Kong Customs who already struggle to check 1% of all containers arriving. Disguised as “Dried Seafood” such containers are highly unlikely to be checked, allowing smugglers to place virtually anything inside.
Furthermore, shark fin smugglers are required to declare what they have shipped only 14 days AFTER the container has arrived in Hong Kong, or face a HK$80 (US$10) late penalty. By then the shipment is already dispersed and inspections cannot be carried out.
Sea Shepherd Global has asked the Hong Kong Government to apply mandatory use of the international Harmonised Shipping Codes for all wildlife products at time of booking for all goods destined for Hong Kong. At the very least this would give Hong Kong Customs and AFCD (Agricultural, Fisheries & Conservation Department) advance warning and a fighting chance to inspect containers that otherwise slip through the net.
Gary Stokes with images taken in front of Legco (Hong Kong)
“They should no longer be called shark fin traders but shark fin smugglers which is exactly what they are, and they should be dealt with as smugglers, instead of being pampered in fear of upsetting livelihoods; they are criminals.” said Gary Stokes of Sea Shepherd Asia. “AFCD Officers need to be given the power to enter, search and prosecute, yet they either do not have the powers or they lack the initiative and incentive to do so.”
Sea Shepherd presented this case to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (Legco) this week to illustrate current failings and loop holes exploited by the Trans-National Wildlife Crime syndicates, and encourage the Hong Kong Government to combat this by giving Customs & AFCD the tools to do their jobs efficiently.