Airline exposed as shark fin trafficker
International airline Air Pacific – soon to be rebranded as Fiji Air – has been exposed as one of the world’s major carriers of shark fins into Hong Kong.
In an extensive investigation, the South China Morning Post has reported that the airlines’ new Airbus A330 aircraft were, according to a group of pilots familiar with its operations "basically a thinly-disguised freighter" carrying shark fins to the territory from Pacific islands.
Hong Kong is the world centre for shark fin trading with the fins used to make an expensive soup.
A coalition of environmental groups claim in a letter to the airline that a “substantial amount” of the shark fins imported into Hong Kong arrive on Air Pacific.
SCMP said suspicions were raised in March by a speech given by Hong Kong Secretary for Transport Anthony Cheung Bing-leung at a welcoming reception for a new Airbus A330 on the airline's Hong Kong route.
"There were only 45 tonnes of cargo being carried between Hong Kong and Fiji in 2009. By the end of last year, the cargo volume was close to 1000 tonnes,” he said in what the publication said was a reference to shark fins.
"Thanks to the close aviation links, we in Hong Kong can now enjoy various kinds of seafood products from the South Pacific as Fiji is one of the major exporters of fish and fishery products to Hong Kong."
Hong Kong Shark Foundation director Alex Hofford, said there had been a 20-fold leap in airfreight tonnage from Fiji to Hong Kong in just three years.
"It's not pineapples or electronics that are being flown here from Fiji - you can be sure of that."
Shark fins harvested from the Cook Islands and Vanuatu were shipped to Fiji and appeared to be making their way to Hong Kong on the Air Pacific flights, many of them to be sold on to the mainland China market, Hofford believes.
"You may be on an Air Pacific flight where you think: 'This can't be making money - the plane is empty' - but the fact is, it's full of cargo," he said.
"They can afford to lose money on the passenger side because they're making money on airfreight."
Air Pacific may be picking up the cargo from Cathay Pacific, which last year bowed to pressure from environmental groups and halted all shark-fin cargoes.
Air Pacific spokesman Shane Hussein told SCMP that they were investigating the issue.
The coalition letter, signed by 78 signatories, said Air Pacific was carrying in shark fins.
"As a code share partner (of Cathay Pacific), this places Air Pacific in a difficult position regarding the continued revenue stream enjoyed by your airline from the transportation of shark fin."