Exclusive: Hong Kong aircraft stalked Taiwan-12 speedboat before mainland capture

Published (HKT): 2020.10.06 06:15

A Hong Kong government aircraft was apparently monitoring the speedboat in which 12 Hongkongers were arrested while trying to flee to Taiwan in August, an investigation by Apple Daily has found.

This finding seems to contradict the Hong Kong government’s earlier claim that it did not know about the arrest by mainland officers until five days after the event.

The 12 Hongkongers have been held in Shenzhen’s Yantian detention center since they were captured by the Guangdong coast guard on Aug. 23. Hong Kong police earlier dismissed suggestions that the force had handed over information about the speedboat’s escape to mainland authorities, and claimed they only learned about the arrest on Aug. 28, when notified by mainland authorities.

Apple Daily tracked the movements of a Government Flying Service aircraft, which suggests that a Hong Kong surveillance operation monitored the speedboat from the time it left Sai Kung’s Po Toi O until shortly before its capture by mainland officers.

Apple Daily’s investigation used the FlightAware application, which tracks flights around the globe. It charted the flight of the fixed-wing B-LVB aircraft from its take-off from Hong Kong International Airport at 4:19 a.m. on Aug. 23.

Between then and the time when the speedboat set off for Taiwan, at 7 a.m., the plane patrolled the waters off Sai Kung, Tung Lung Chau and the Ninepin Group islands, at altitudes from 1,000 to 2,000 meters.

At the time the speedboat entered mainland waters, the aircraft descended to 1,000 meters and moved southeast in the same direction as the speedboat, FlightAware data showed.

According to Hong Kong police on Aug. 26, marine police radar showed the speedboat leaving Hong Kong waters shortly after 8 a.m., heading southeast. The aircraft also left Hong Kong waters around the same time, traveling as far as 28 kilometers from the spot where the speedboat would soon be intercepted by Guangdong coastguard, according to FlightAware.

The Hong Kong aircraft turned back to the airport at around 8:15 a.m. Shortly after 9 a.m., the Guangdong coast guard intercepted the speedboat and captured the 12 Hongkongers.

Pro-democracy lawmakers said the FlightAware data seems to show the government plane was deliberately monitoring the speedboat rather than making a routine patrol.

James To of the Democratic Party, a former deputy chairperson of the Legislative Council’s security panel, said such airplanes are usually deployed to search for specific targets rather than for regular patrols.

Opposition Civic Party legislator Jeremy Tam, a former airline pilot, said the government aircraft’s route matched the speedboat’s movements so closely that it seemed to be monitoring its progress.

The Government Flying Service Department on Monday refused to divulge the aircraft’s objective, and said it had no further information about the 12 Hongkongers.

Apple Daily is still awaiting replies to its enquiries with the Security Bureau and police.

Shenzhen authorities last week said they had formally arrested the 12 for organizing or making illegal border crossings. Their families and lawyers have been barred from meeting them so far.

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