HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong authorities said Tuesday they seized a total of over 4,000 pounds of live lobsters and sea cucumbers believed to be bound for mainland China, months after Beijing restricted imports of the crustaceans from Australia as tensions escalated between the two countries.
Hong Kong Customs said in a statement that it had seized 890 kilograms (1,962 pounds) of live lobsters and 930 kilograms (2,050 pounds) of sea cucumbers, with a total estimated value of 10 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.3 million) during the operation on Monday. Two men aged 40 and 45 suspected to be connected to the case were also arrested, the statement added.
The seizures come after a recent surge in the import volume 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 had previously accounted for over 90% of Australia’s lobster exports.
The origin of the smuggled goods was still under investigation as the boxes seized were not labelled, according to Lui Siu-fai, the divisional commander of the customs’ Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau.
“I believe that most of the smuggled goods were (to be) shipped to mainland China,” he said during a news conference 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 worth about $540,000 and arrest 13 people suspected to be connected to the case.
Officials said monthly imports of Australian lobster to Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese city south of the Chinese mainland, have more than doubled following the ban.
China’s lobster ban came after the Australian government pushed 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.