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Travel restrictions lead to spike in air cargo drug seizures in Hong Kong


HONG Kong air cargo drug seizures surged 165 per cent in first five months as Covid-19 restrictions prevent couriers from flying into city.

Nearly HKD320 million (US$41 million) worth of illegal drugs has been seized from air cargo mailed into and out of Hong Kong so far this year, as coronavirus travel restrictions have forced drug dealers to use airborne shipments rather than human couriers, the South China Morning Post reported, quoting law enforcement sources.

Figures obtained by the newspaper showed that 1.19 tonnes of illicit narcotics was confiscated from 259 shipments intercepted by customs officers at the airport's cargo terminal in the first five months of the year, up 165 per cent from the 449 kg discovered in 211 packages in the same period last year.

One source said the monthly average number of packages found containing illegal drugs jumped from 43 in the first two months of the year to 58 between March and May.

Hong Kong has barred all non-residents from entry from overseas countries since March 25. The city has also required all returning residents as well as visitors from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan to undergo quarantine for 14 days.

"Because of the restrictions, trafficking activities involving drug mules have died down. No drug couriers have come to Hong Kong since mid-March," the source said.

"As there is still demand for illegal drugs, traffickers have resorted to smuggling illegal drugs into the city as air cargo."

In the first three months of the year, on average 12 drug couriers, mostly inbound travellers, were picked up at the airport each month. The source said no drug traffickers were picked up at the airport in April or May.

The source said customs officers had recently noticed an increasing number of cases in which cocaine was airmailed from the Netherlands.

In response to the trend, Hong Kong's Customs Department has deployed more resources including boosting manpower and the number of sniffer dogs to enhance inspection capabilities at the airport's cargo terminals.

"The surge in the number of cases we've detected has demonstrated our intelligence operations and deployment have been successful," another source said.

In Hong Kong, drug trafficking carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a HKD5 million fine.

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