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The Taiwan Coastguard thwarts the smuggling of 5.8 million packs of illegal cigarettes worth $ 17 million in Taichung and Tainan from the Da Dong Cargo Ship registered in Sierra Leone

Taichung/Tainan, Aug. 26 (CNA) The Coast Guard has uncovered two cases of cigarette smuggling in Taichung and Tainan in the past two days, seizing more than 5.8 million packs of cigarettes with a market value estimated at over NT$500 million (US$17 million).

Acting on tip-offs, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) investigators on Tuesday searched the Sierra Leone-registered freighter Da Dong (大東輪), which was docked at Wharf No. 18 in Taichung Port for repairs after reporting engine failure, CGA officials said Wednesday.

During the search, a total of 11,050 cartons containing packs of cigarettes produced in China and South Korea were found in 13 40-foot containers on the freighter, the CGA said.

In all, more than 5.5 million packs of cigarettes were seized, with a market value estimated at over NT$500 million, making it one of the biggest cigarette smuggling operations to be uncovered in Taiwan, CGA officials said.

According to the CGA’s Investigation Branch, the Da Dong freighter applied early this week to sail into the port for repairs after it reported the failure of its main engine.

Sources familiar with the case revealed that the freighter had more than 20 Indonesian and Chinese crew members, in addition to the ship’s captain — a Taiwanese national surnamed Huang (黃).

Eight of the crew members apparently wanted to leave the boat after discovering it was engaging in smuggling but were not allowed to do so by the captain, who withheld their salaries to keep them in line, according to the sources.

On Aug. 23, when the freighter anchored in waters off Taichung Port, an Indonesian sailor allegedly called a priest in Kaohsiung for help, who then contacted friends to report the smuggling to the CGA, the sources said.

The owner of the freighter is also a Taiwanese national, surnamed Lee (李), according to the sources.

CGA investigators are now questioning all of those who may have had something to do with the case.

Those involved could be handed over to prosecutors for further investigation and face potential charges for violating the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act, under which anyone who imports tobacco or alcohol products without permission is subject to a jail term of up to three years and a fine of up to NT$10 million.

The other case was announced by the CGA in a statement Wednesday.

In that case, Coast Guard officers raided a yacht, also registered in Sierra Leone, at Anping fishing port in Tainan on Monday and seized 310,000 packs of illegal cigarettes.

The market value of the cargo was estimated at more than NT$21 million, the agency said.

The captain, a Taiwanese national surnamed Hsu (許), and three other crew members were arrested and are under investigation, the CGA said.

The Coast Guard is also looking into whether the Tainan case is related to the smuggling case discovered in Taichung Port, it said.

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