South Africa jails Chinese abalone poachers suspected to be part of smuggling syndicate

Published on
December 2, 2021
South Africa has jailed two Chinese nationals suspected to be part of a global abalone-poaching syndicate.

South Africa has jailed two Chinese nationals suspected to be part of a global abalone-poaching syndicate.

The South China Morning Post reported that another suspect, a Malawian national, was also handed a one-year prison sentence as South Africa steps up efforts to reduce illegal seafood trading, which has been blamed for the loss of more than 96 million individual abalone between 2006 and 2016, with 90 percent of the smuggled sea snails ending up in Hong Kong.

The jailed Chinese nationals, Feng Zhu and Zhou Wangfeng, were earlier arrested in May 2020 with more than USD 61,000 (EUR 54,000) worth of illegally-caught abalone. The third suspect, Richard Rayson, was jailed for 12 months for the same offense. On 19 November, 2021, South African police discovered 2,227 units of abalone with an estimated street value of more than ZAR 1 million (USD 63,000, EUR 55,600) at a drying facility that caught fire after a gas explosion.

South Africa has been identified as the center of a flourishing illegal trade in abalone. The Wildlife Justice Commission said the illicit abalone trade in South Africa “is largely controlled by Chinese criminal groups, who source their product from local gangs operating in fishing settlements close to known poaching sites.”

“The abalone is typically dried in illegal processing facilities in South Africa, before being transported across the border by truck into Namibia, Zimbabwe, or Mozambique, with abalone hidden in false compartments or among boxes of other products, such as dried fruit, from where it is exported to Hong Kong SAR,” WJC said.

The commission said the shipments of illegal abalone “are reportedly often exchanged for drugs such as methamphetamine or its chemical precursors, embedding the trade within South Africa’s drug economy.”

“This type of barter is an example of transactional convergence, occurring when criminal groups in different markets purchase or exchange goods or services with each other, and although this abalone-for-drugs criminal trade has been widely reported in South Africa by multiple sources, there is a dearth of specific cases of seizures or arrests involving both commodities, indicating that this convergence may not yet be effectively targeted by law-enforcement authorities,” WJC said.

The WJC attributed the flourishing illegal abalone trade in South Africa to corruption that is feeding the country’s black market.  

Photo courtesy of A. Mertens/Shutterstock

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