The nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV) that were impounded by the Hong Kong Customs & Excise Department are no longer seen at the open air warehouse, reports Hongkong media, Apple Daily.
Hong-Kong-based investigative journalism site, FactWire, had earlier reported on 23 November that nine armoured vehicles along with three containers were seized by Hong Kong authorities after it carried out an inspection sparked by a tip-off.
According to the report, when Apple Daily visited the warehouse on Monday morning, the nine ICVs were nowhere to be seen.
When the newspaper enquired with the Hongkong Customs and the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), the HK customs merely replied the case is still under investigation and no further information can be provided while MINDEF has yet to reply.
The newspaper reported that since 26 November till 30 December, the nine vehicles have been spotted to be present at the warehouse covered with green canvas. However, on Monday morning, the open area at the warehouse is seen to be empty and the guards present at the warehouse declined to reply queries from the newspaper’s reporter.
According to newspaper’s sources near the government, if HK customs’ investigation does not show any involvement of arms trafficking, the customs need not make any prosecution and has the authority to return the ICVs back to the Singapore Government.
A prior example of this is during an incident where the HK customs detained a North-Korean-made tank that was found in a container shipped from Saudi Arabia to North Korea in September 2010. The HK customs decided to return the tank to the recipient because it believed that the tank was an approved display item by the government.
Efforts to get Terrexes back to Singapore
Earlier on 7 December, MINDEF announced that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was informed by APL that a third meeting between APL and HK Customs to resolve the issue of the detention of the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV) was conducted from 10am to 4pm on Monday (6 December).
MINDEF said that, unfortunately, it has not been provided formal reasons as yet for the detention of the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV).
It also said that the SAF has advised APL officials to continue to extend their full cooperation to the Hong Kong Customs in order to expedite the return of the SAF’s Terrex ICVs.
Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Melvyn Ong had stated at a media briefing at Choa Chu Kang Camp on Tuesday (29 November) that there was nothing unusual about the nine Terrex ICVs transiting in Hong Kong and it was a purely commercial decision for the ship carrying the vehicles to have stopped in Xiamen before going to Hong Kong before they were seized by China.
MG Ong said that commercial shipping of military equipment is somewhat a “norm” for many countries, saying, “It’s a commonly adopted means. Many militaries use it consistently… during peacetime training. It’s the most cost-effective and efficient means of transporting large amounts of equipment.”
He also said, “We have a system in place to ensure how this is done properly. We have an established system for engaging commercial companies. All are required to comply with stringent requirements to protect against tampering and theft – for example, we lock; double lock some containers to ensure the security of goods on board.”
While Minister of Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen wrote on his Facebook page a few days back, “For most Singaporeans, MINDEF and the SAF included, the detention of our Terrexes by Hong Kong authorities was a low point in 2016 from the defence perspective. The SAF will learn from this episode and has already changed its practices to better protect our assets. But all of us are of course upset that the Terrexes, our property, have not been returned to Singapore. We have been working at all levels of Government these past two months to effect their return, quietly and out of the limelight where it is more effective. I will say more in the next Parliament sitting, but we should view that incident in its proper context.”