Coast Guard Administration (CGA) patrol ships last week seized contraband cigarettes worth an estimated NT$110 million (US$3.9 million), after uncovering a smuggling operation that originated in the South China Sea, officials said yesterday.
It was the first time a cigarette-smuggling operation was discovered near the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島), coast guard officials said.
The coast guard was holding live-fire exercises on the Pratas Islands on Monday last week and Tuesday, when on Saturday last week, the CGA detected a suspicious cargo ship in the area, the officials said.
Photo copied by Hung Ting-hung, Taipei Times
After receiving a tip-off that a cargo ship registered under the flag of African nation Togo was allegedly hauling contraband cigarettes, the CGA Southern Branch’s Offshore Flotilla 5 formed a task force to intercept the ship, with the main operation mounted by the 3,000-tonne cutter CG-129 Kaohsiung, they said.
After CGA officers boarded the vessel, they found a cache of cigarettes hidden in large fabric bags.
It took several days of counting the contraband until they on Thursday finalized the haul — 1.63 million cartons of cigarettes, all counterfeits of Chinese brands, with an estimated value of NT$110 million, officials said.
The ship’s crew consisted of two Chinese and 10 Burmese.
The ship’s Burmese captain told the coast guard that they had embarked from a port in Cambodia loaded with the cigarettes, and were headed to Taiwan, officials said.
As of yesterday, the contraband cigarettes had been forwarded to the Kaohsiung City Department of Finance for assessment, the officials said.
Additional reporting by Jason Pan
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