LCQ22: Regulation of vessels licensed as Class III vessel - fish carriers
Following is a question by the Hon Kwong Chun-yu and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (January 31):
Under section 3(i) of the Import and Export (Registration) Regulations (Cap. 60 sub. leg. E), marine fish (including edible crustaceans, molluscs and other similar edible products derived from the sea) arriving in Hong Kong direct from fishing grounds on fishing craft registered or licensed in Hong Kong are exempted from the requirements to make import and export declarations. However, under sections 4 and 5 of the above Regulations, vessels licensed as Class III vessel – fish carriers under the Merchant Shipping (Local Vessels) (Certification and Licensing) Regulation (Cap. 548 sub. leg. D) (local fish carriers), are not exempted as they are not fishing craft, and must make import and export declarations to the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) for all live marine fish they carry. Also, it is learnt that local fish carriers have been exempted by the Director of Marine from complying with the requirements to obtain arrival and port clearances. Some conservationists have relayed to me that local fish carriers collect all or most of the live marine fish they import to Hong Kong from a collection point in the waters outside Hong Kong and convey the marine fish to Hong Kong. These conservationists are concerned that due to the aforesaid exemptions and the lack of regulation and oversight by the Government, local fish carriers may easily become accomplices in the illegal fishing activities conducted in the waters of other jurisdictions where the live marine fish originated. In addition, there is evidence that some local fish carriers have not made declarations of their live marine cargos on entry to the Hong Kong waters and that some of them have smuggled their cargos into the waters of Mainland China. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the existing number of local fish carriers; the number of law enforcement actions taken by C&ED in 2017 against the smuggling of live marine fish by local fish carriers into and out of Hong Kong;
(2) of the number of local fish carriers which made import and re-export declarations for live marine fish in each month in 2017, and the total quantity of live marine fish so declared by such carriers in 2017;
(3) of the measures currently put in place by the Government to regulate and monitor the imports and re-exports of live marine fish by local fish carriers to curb illegal fishing and live marine fish trade activities in Hong Kong and across the boundary;
(4) why local fish carriers have been exempted from complying with the requirement to obtain arrival and port clearances, which may render it difficult for C&ED to check if local fish carriers have complied with the import and re-export declaration requirements in respect of non-exempted live marine fish;
(5) whether, to guard against local fish carriers' conveying into Hong Kong live marine fish obtained from illegal fishing in the waters outside Hong Kong and then re-exporting to Mainland China, the Government will step up law enforcement actions on the requirement for local fish carriers to make declarations on their imports and re-exports of live marine fish; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(6) given that under the Marine Fish (Marketing) Ordinance (Cap. 291), except for live marine fish, all fresh marine fish are required to be landed and sold wholesale at the wholesale fish markets operated by the Fish Marketing Organization, of the reasons for the authorities to exclude live marine fish from the Ordinance and whether it will enact legislation to abolish the exclusion; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(7) of the current number of fish carriers of 300 gross tonnage or above fitted with an automatic identification system (AIS); whether the Government will enact legislation to require that fish carriers must be fitted with an AIS and that the AIS must at all times be switched on, to facilitate the authorities' monitoring of the sea trips made by such vessels?
In consultation with the relevant policy bureaux, I provide a consolidated reply to the various parts of the question as follows:
(1) According to the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB), there are four categories of local vessels under the Merchant Shipping (Local Vessels) (Certification and Licensing) Regulation (Cap. 548D). For fishing vessels, which come under Class III, the detailed breakdown of various types of vessels concerned as at end 2017 is as follows:
According to the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED), in 2017, the Department conducted over 4 600 searches on fish carriers and fishing vessels licensed in and outside Hong Kong as part of its efforts to detect and deter smuggling activities. A total of 25 smuggling cases were effected (with seizure valued at about $6.5 million) as a result of those searches.
(2) The Government maintains statistics on import and export by mode of transport. Statistics on import and export of live edible marine fish transported by ocean and river modes in 2017 are at Annex. Further breakdown by type of conveyance such as local fish carrier or the number of carriers making such declarations is not available.
(3) & (5) Import and export of live marine fish are not prohibited in Hong Kong, unless the fish being imported or exported is a scheduled species listed under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586) or regulated under other Hong Kong legislation.
So long as the Import and Export Ordinance (Cap. 60) is concerned, if live marine fish are imported or exported as cargo by a vessel, the master of the vessel is required to record such cargo in a manifest and furnish the same to C&ED upon request, when the vessel enters or leaves Hong Kong. The person who imports or exports such cargo is required to lodge with C&ED an import or export declaration within 14 days after the import or export. C&ED takes enforcement action on a regular basis against non-compliance with the above requirements regarding manifests and trade declarations, as well as smuggling activities.
In addition, we understand from the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has all along been working to combat illegal fishing in Hong Kong waters through random and targeted patrols, joint operations with relevant Government departments, and exchange of information and intelligence with relevant Government departments and Mainland authorities.
(4) According to THB, unless otherwise exempted, vessels have to go through arrival and departure clearance procedures with the Marine Department (MD), when they arrive in the Hong Kong waters and before they depart the Hong Kong waters. However, for fishermen, they often need to depart and enter Hong Kong waters for conducting fishing activities outside Hong Kong waters, and their destinations and schedules vary and are contingent on different factors, including weather and sea conditions. Having regard to the mode of operation of Class III vessels, it is considered impractical to impose on these vessels the requirements of reporting departures and arrivals. These vessels (including fish carriers) are therefore exempted, by the power of the Director of Marine vested under Section 69 of the Merchant Shipping (Local Vessels) Ordinance (Cap. 548), from such arrival and departure clearance procedures.
(6) According to FHB, the Marine Fish (Marketing) Ordinance (Cap. 291) provides for the wholesale marketing of marine fish at the seven wholesale fish markets operated by the Fish Marketing Organization (FMO). Since marine fish caught by local fishing vessels are mainly kept and sold in fresh form, fresh marine fishes are required to be landed and wholesaled at the FMO markets, as a measure to assist the local fishing industry with a centralised trading platform. For live marine fish traders, they are also welcomed to make use of this trading platform and conduct their wholesaling activities at the FMO markets, in addition to their own established distribution channels for selling imported live marine fish direct to retailers/consumers.
(7) According to THB, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a shipborne navigational equipment which aims to prevent collision for enhancing marine safety. AIS sends navigational information of a vessel automatically to other vessels and shore stations, and such information helps coxswains to take appropriate navigational decisions. As far as local vessels are concerned, certain types of vessels are required to be installed with AIS in the light of their higher risk level (having regard to factors such as their size, the number of passengers and the nature of goods they may carry). As stipulated by the relevant legislation, Class I vessels permitted to carry more than 100 passengers, Class II vessels of 300 gross tonnage or above fitted with propulsion engines and Class II vessels used for carrying dangerous goods are required to be equipped with AIS. Due to the different level of risk involved, MD does not have plans to impose the same requirement on other classes of local vessels across the board. MD has no information on the current number of fish carriers fitted with AIS.
Ends/Wednesday, January 31, 2018