An air-and-sea search for an alleged smuggler who went missing after falling from a boat during a high-speed chase by Hong Kong police and customs officers came to an end on Monday (Aug 9) with the discovery of a man’s body in the waters off Tuen Mun.
The joint Friday (Aug 6) night anti-smuggling operation resulted in the seizure of twenty eight kittens and puppies believed destined for illegal sale in the city.
No identifying documents were found, but the body and clothing matched the description of a missing mainland Chinese man, according to one law enforcement source.
The speedboat, which was carrying the deceased and one other man, was spotted off Black Point in Tuen Mun – just northwest of Hong Kong – at about 11.30pm on Friday.
The chase began when police pursuit crafts were deployed to intercept the speedboat, which fled at high speed.
During a pursuit that lasted about ten minutes, one of the two men fell from the speedboat around 1.8km off the shore, sparking the rescue effort.
“It was possible the man jumped into the sea in an effort to avoid being caught,” the source said, adding the speedboat was subsequently intercepted and a 35-year-old mainland man arrested.
“Fifteen puppies and thirteen kittens were found inside 8 cages on the speedboat along with twenty two boxes of contraband cigarettes worth HK$720,000 (S$125,590),” another source said.
“All the animals were expensive breeds, including poodles and Pomeranians. We believe they could be sold for as much as HK$10,000 each in the city.”
The kittens and puppies were later picked up by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
He said he believed the animals were smuggled from the mainland to buyers in the city.
Police said the 35-year-old captured on the boat was arrested for importing unmanifested cargo, animal cruelty, endangering the safety of others at sea, and entering the city illegally.
The search for the missing smuggler ended at about 8.30am on Monday when a body matching his description was found off Lung Kwu Tan, not far from Tuen Mun.
According to the force, the body was plucked from the water by firefighters. Police said an autopsy would be carried out to ascertain the cause of death.
Last November, thirty four kittens and nine puppies that were also smuggled into the city from the mainland were seized in twenty one cages along with HK$1.1million worth of illicit cigarettes aboard a speedboat following a high-speed chase with police off Lantau Island. No arrests were made.
The cat breeds found included Ragdoll, Russian Blue, Chinchilla, British Shorthair, Scottish Fold, American Shorthair and Bengal.
One was found dead in its cage. All nine puppies were poodles.
In a separate case last August, four cages containing the carcasses of fifteen cats and dogs were discovered after police said they had likely been thrown overboard by smugglers being pursued.
A source at the time said the fifteen animals were being smuggled from the city to the mainland.
Police have previously said that animal smuggling from Hong Kong to the mainland was rare but expanding as a business amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Many owners – believed to be mainland Chinese working or studying abroad – have paid as much as 40,000 yuan (S$8,380) each to an agency to have their pets sent to them after they returned home.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.