HK: Case will be handled according to city's laws

The Terrex 8x8 at the ST Engineering pavilion at the indoor exhibition of the Singapore Airshow 2016.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Office has said that the government will handle the seizure of Singapore's military vehicles according to the city's laws.

A spokesman yesterday confirmed receipt of a letter from Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, adding that the matter is being investigated by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.

PM Lee has written to the Hong Kong leader to ask for the return of nine Terrex infantry carriers that belong to the Singapore Government.

The armoured vehicles and other equipment, which were being transported by a commercial vessel operated by APL from Taiwan back to Singapore, were seized by Hong Kong Customs when the vessel was in transit in Hong Kong on Nov 23 last year.

The Terrex vehicles were used by the Singapore Armed Forces in routine overseas training in Taiwan.

SAF armoured vehicles seized in Hong Kong port

  • A shipment of nine armoured vehicles belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has been seized in Hong Kong.
  • The Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs) were discovered at Kwai Chung terminal during a routine inspection, news agency FactWire reported.
  • In response to media queries, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) confirmed in a statement that the Terrex vehicles and associated equipment were delayed at Hong Kong's Kwai Chung Container Terminal on Wed (Nov 23), due to a request for routine inspections by the Hong Kong Customs authorities.
  • "Singapore authorities are providing relevant assistance to the Hong Kong Customs and expect the shipment to return to Singapore. expeditiously," Mindef said.
  • "The Terrex ICVs were used by the SAF in routine overseas training and shipped back via commercial means as with previous exercises."
  • A Hong Kong government official who declined to be named told SCMP earlier that the consignment was en route to Singapore after an overseas training exercise. It is unknown why the vehicles were unloaded at Hong Kong.
  • The same source added that the vehicles could have been unloaded by mistake along with other general cargo.
  • The SAF is the sole operator of the 24-tonne Terrex vehicles, which is developed by local defence manufacturer Singapore Technologies (ST) Kinetics.

It was not the first time that an APL vessel carrying Singapore- bound military equipment had transited in Hong Kong. The city's Customs authorities have yet to give an official reason for the seizure.

They did not answer questions from The Straits Times yesterday, but said that "the case is still under investigation".

In a response soon after the vehicles were impounded, a spokesman told The Straits Times that cargo in transit generally does not require an "import or export licence" as it will remain at all times on the ship. However, such a licence will be required for "certain types of strategic commodities".

APL declined to comment if it has the proper documentation required by the Hong Kong authorities.

However, a source with the Hong Kong Customs who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Straits Times yesterday that the Singapore-bound shipment was seized due to a lack of documentation.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament yesterday that as the vehicles are the property of the Singapore Government and protected by international law, they cannot be seized.

Singapore could take legal action in Hong Kong courts based on the principle of sovereign immunity of military assets, a Hong Kong-based senior lawyer specialising in marine claims was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Days after the seizure, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated that China "firmly opposes any of the countries that have diplomatic ties with them (China) to have any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, including defence exchanges and co-operation".

Yesterday, Beijing again urged Singapore to "abide by the 'one China' principle", and called on Singapore to be cautious in its remarks and actions in handling the matter.

"We hope the Singapore side can conscientiously abide by Hong Kong's laws," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

Read also: 'Terrex issue needs time to be resolved'
Seizure of SAF armoured vehicles in Hong Kong against international law: Ng Eng Hen
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SAF vehicle seizure: Use of shipping lines by militaries the norm in peacetime, says Ng Eng Hen

This article was first published on Jan 10, 2017.
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