Smugglers toss Cigarettes ashore

A former tout, who gave his name only as Tan, said he could easily make as much as $2000 net profit a week selling smuggled Cigarettes, even with a sMall ...

CIGARETTE smuggling can fetch More profits than peddling drugs, liquor or illegal DVDs.

That's why these smugglers are willing to risk their lives for the lucrative trade, said a peddler.

They try to smuggle it in through all conceivable means and use land and even sea.

 
They modify sampans (boats) with powerful engines, travel at night and even work with illegal immigrants.

The spotlight has turned once again on the cigarette smuggling trade after two Police Coast Guard (PCG) officers died in a collision with a speedboat full of illegal immigrants off Tuas on Friday.

Cartons of Cigarettes were believed to be on board the speedboat.

WORTH OVER $180M ANNUALLY

Cigarette smuggling is worth over $180 million a year in unpaid taxes and duties to the Government (see report above, facing page).

Singapore's duty on tobacco is probably one of the highest in the world, said Singapore Customs in 2005.

A 20-stick pack of premium cigarette costs about $11 here.

This compares to just $3 in Malaysia - the second most-costly place to light up in South-east Asia.

A pack of contraband Cigarettes can cost as little as $5 here.

A former tout, who gave his name only as Tan, said he could easily make as much as $2,000 net profit a week selling smuggled Cigarettes, even with a sMall operation of six men.

Said Tan, 28, in a previous report: 'You can survive long enough without being caught, but only if you're not greedy.'

He says he operated through word of mouth.

He used to get his shipment from Indonesian smugglers who dropped off their load along the coast.

And these smugglers are not easy to catch. They operate under the cover of darkness in their souped-up motorised boats, speed to the lagoons in Tuas and Punggol and toss the cartons ashore to be picked up by runners.

THROW CARTONS IN SEA

If they are spotted before they get close to the beach, they would just throw the cartons in the sea and speed off.

So the authorities have to deploy the fastest boats to catch the smugglers.

They're manned by an elite Police Coast Guard (PCG) unit so secretive that the members of this unit can't be photographed or named, according to a Straits Times report in 2004.

Despite being around for over a decade, little is known about this unit called The Flying Fish.

They first came into the limelight when its members nabbed one of the three armed robbers who were holed up on Pulau Tekong after fleeing Johor in 2004.

This unit is part of the Special Task Squadron (STS) which started out as a crack unit to tackle smugglers and illegal immigrants riding in speedboats into Singapore.

The two PCG officers who died were also from STS.

Their equipment, comprising high-speed boats with the ability to launch seaborne intercepts of criminals or ships, sounds impressive though.

The Marlin boats they use can zip through the water, are highly manoeuvrable and can change direction at the blink of an eye.

The squad's commander didn't want to reveal the boats' top speeds, but said they were the fastest craft deployed in Singapore waters.

POWERFUL ENGINES

These Marlins made their first appearance at a National Day Parade sea display in 1993, where they revved up to 30 knots and performed tight 90-degree turns.

Boating enthusiast David Loh, who owns three boats, said some of these sampans may look slow but they're usually equipped with powerful engines.

Mr Loh, 54, travels to Indonesia quite often in his boat and he makes it a point to head out to sea every week.

He said in Mandarin: 'These sampans and boats used for smuggling can go very fast, because they're equipped with a powerful engine.

'These guys need the power and speed if they're doing illegal things like smuggling.'

He said these boats can usually average speeds of at least 30 knots, equivalent or better than an average speedboat.

While he has not seen these boats, he has seen boxes of Cigarettes floating on the waters before.

He reckoned those boxes were tossed overboard by the smugglers when they ran into the PCG.

He added: 'I think these smugglers usually operate at night, without any lights on their boats too. But our PCG vessels, with their radar, can pick them out quite easily.'

The penalty for smuggling Cigarettes is a jail term of up to three years and a maximum fine of 20 times the value of the Customs duty and taxes.


 


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