Armoured vehicles seized at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals in Hong Kong belong to the Singaporean army, which has been conducting training programmes in Taiwan for decades, defense experts and Taiwanese media have said.
News agency FactWire reported that nine armoured vehicles, wrapped in blue and grey covers and placed on container racks, were seized by Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department on Wednesday. FactWire sources stated that twelve armoured vehicles were on a container ship setting off from Kaohsiung to Singapore and were passing by the Hong Kong borders. There was no intention to unload the goods for transshipment or export and the ship was in transit at the container terminals in Hong Kong.
Gordon Arthur, Asia-Pacific editor for UK defence publisher Shephard Media, told HKFP that the vehicles are Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles designed and used in Singapore, according to the colours and markings of the photos reported.
Arthur said the Singaporean army has been conducting the “Starlight Program” training in Taiwan for decades. The program was conducted secretly and was only reported recently by media.
“Around late 1960s, Taiwan has been hosting Singapore troops in country – they have a permanent detachment based in Taiwan,” he said. “Either they are rotating vehicles back to Singapore, or another implication is maybe they are pulling down their presence there [in Taiwan].”
He said Singapore signed a deal with Australia earlier this year to expand training facilities and training opportunities in the country.
“I would say there has been a mistake because they wouldn’t normally come through Hong Kong,” he said. “They would want to avoid it at all cost.”
He said one implication of the incident was that the Chinese military may want to have a closer inspection of the vehicles.
Taiwan’s TVBS news channel also cited sources from its Ministry of National Defence as saying that the vehicles were AV-81 vehicles for the Starlight troops training in Taiwan, and are being shipped back to Singapore after completing the mission.
The armoured vehicles were surrounded by shipping containers, only visible by aerial view. At least two customs officers were on guard, according to FactWire reporters who were deployed near the terminal.
Informed sources told FactWire that customs officers uncovered the armoured vehicles along with explosives when examining the containers at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals on Wednesday. They suspected firearms smuggling activities and seized the prohibited items for further investigation.
According to the Import and Export (Strategic Commodities) Regulations, armoured vehicles, tanks and other military armed vehicles are listed as strategic commodities. A licence issued by the Director-General of Trade and Industry is required for the import, export or transshipment of every shipment of strategic commodities.
Any person who imports or exports any strategic commodities not under and in accordance with an import or export licence commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $500,000 and to imprisonment for 2 years; on conviction on indictment, to an unlimited fine and to imprisonment for 7 years; and to mandatory forfeiture of all offending strategic commodities seized.