Customs officers said on Wednesday that they had made a record 26-tonne seizure of illegal dried shark fins worth some HK$8.6 million, and it was only found because of suspicious labelling in Spanish.
A 57-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the haul which arrived in two shipments to the Kwai Chung Customhouse from Ecuador.
Customs commander Danny Cheung said although X-ray scans showed nothing suspicious in the containers, the paperwork raised eyebrows because the contents were declared as "pescado seco", which is Spanish for "dried fish".
"It’s unusual to describe some imported goods in a foreign language apart from English," Cheung said, adding that officers were aware that there are many endangered species living in waters near Ecuador.
Personnel from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department were called in to inspect the haul.
They said the shark fins came from two species that are considered vulnerable to extinction – thresher and silky sharks – and that an estimated 38,000 sharks would have been killed to provide so many fins.
Cheung added that officers believe the shark fins were destined for local fish markets and also for re-export to countries in Southeast Asia.
The suspect was arrested last Wednesday in Sai Ying Pun, and officials said more arrests could be made.
Cheung noted that the maximum penalty for anyone who breaches the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance is a fine of HK$10 million and 10 years in jail.
Excluding the latest seizure, Cheung said Customs had already foiled nine shark fins smuggling cases in the first four months, involving 41 tonnes of the goods that worth HK$5.2 million.