One suspected smuggler died in hospital on Thursday hours after he and another man fell into the sea when their boat was rammed by a speedboat and sank in Hong Kong waters.
A police source said the investigation suggested the pair were from mainland China, and had been trying to smuggle frozen meat from the city to Shenzhen when their 12-metre wooden boat was hit by the other vessel northwest of Lung Kwu Chau on Wednesday night.
The source said a grey speedboat with two men on board did not stop after the collision and it sped towards the direction of the airport.
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An air-and-sea rescue operation began at about 10.15pm on Wednesday, when a marine police launch patrolling the area found the pair floating in the water. More than 10 life jackets and several boxes of frozen meat were also spotted nearby.
According to the force, the operation involved officers from the marine police and Fire Services Department, as well as the Government Flying Service.
Police said two men wearing life jackets were spotted floating in the sea and one was yelling for help.
Two officers jumped into the sea and picked up the men, who were then brought on board the police launch.
“One of the two men was unconscious when found, and the other was conscious. They were first taken to the marine base in Tuen Mun,” the source said.
The pair were then sent to Tuen Mun Hospital, where the unconscious man, thought to be aged about 60, died soon after 5am on Thursday. The other man, aged 54, was admitted to hospital.
The source said the 54-year-old man was the captain of the wooden boat, and police arrested him on suspicion of endangering the safety of others at sea and entering the city illegally.
In July, the Post reported that gangs controlled by Hong Kong triads were behind a massive smuggling operation delivering more than 1,000 tonnes of frozen meat a day to the mainland with the use of high-powered speedboats.
“Dozens of these boats usually gather and manoeuvre under the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge at the maritime boundary with mainland China waiting for orders,” a law enforcement source said.
“They then cross into Hong Kong waters, pick up frozen meat from barges off Lung Kwu Chau, and race to loading bays just minutes away on the mainland.”
He said the illegal maritime trade had prompted local authorities to enhance patrols and mount joint operations.
In the first eight months of this year, customs officers confiscated HK$480 million worth of luxury goods, frozen meat and other contraband in 52 cross-border maritime smuggling cases. They seized HK$490 million worth of smuggled goods in 62 cases in the whole of last year.