HONG KONG (AP) – Authorities in Hong Kong said on Tuesday they seized a total of more than 4,000 pounds of live lobsters and sea cucumbers believed to be bound for mainland China, months after Beijing restricted imports shellfish from Australia as tensions escalated between the two countries.
Hong Kong Customs said in a statement it seized 890 kilograms (1,962 pounds) of live lobsters and 930 kilograms (2,050 pounds) of sea cucumbers, with a total estimated value of HK $ 10 million ( $ 1.3 million) during the operation on Monday. Two men, aged 40 and 45, suspected of being linked to the case were also arrested, the statement added.
The seizures come after a recent increase in the volume of imports of Australian lobsters to Hong Kong following China’s imposition of an unofficial ban on imports late last year. Sea cucumbers and lobsters are considered delicacies in Chinese cuisine, and China previously accounted for over 90% of Australia’s lobster exports.
The origin of the contraband goods was still under investigation because the seized boxes were not labeled, according to Lui Siu-fai, the divisional commander of the Customs Union’s Crime Investigation Bureau.
“I think most of the contraband was (should be) shipped to mainland China,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The customs seizure of lobster comes weeks after a similar anti-smuggling operation in October confiscated 5,300 kilograms (11,650 pounds) of Australian lobster valued at around $ 540,000 and arrested 13 people on suspicion of ‘be related to the case.
Officials said monthly imports of Australian lobster to Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese city south of mainland China, more than doubled as a result of the ban.
China’s lobster ban came after the Australian government called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. China has since blocked imports of other Australian imports, such as wine, barley, cotton and coal.