Safeguarding the Waters
I have spoken to many officers over the years and to a man, they have all told me that one of the best experiences they have had in the force was their tour in the Marine Police.
The Marine Police have a long and significant history. Previously known as the Water Police, at the turn of the last century they were responsible for patrolling both Deep Bay on the Western coast and Mirs Bay on the East. They were responsible for everything from incursions by smugglers to safeguarding the local fishermen from the pirates that were still active in the sixties.
A chap I worked with in Special Branch was one such officer. Hugh, (not his real name) was a true gentleman: he was well-read, articulate, conscientious and ever mindful of the welfare of his fellow men.
Prior to his posting to the branch, Hugh did a tour in the Marine police; this story and the following one came from him.
Hugh was promoted to the command of his own police patrol launch and his area of operation was Deep Bay on the West side of Hong Kong. During these days, the late seventies and early eighties, territorial integrity was still an issue for the government and it was quite common for mainland fishermen to come into Hong Kong waters to spread their nets. Apart from ensuring that these fishermen were not smuggling or dynamite fishing, the Marine Police had an easy attitude towards them. They were usually warned and released. That was until the local fishermen, who were largely responsible for the surrounding waters being fished out, complained that the Mainlanders were stealing the catch that was rightfully theirs.
An order went down to the Marine Police launch commanders: all Mainland fishing boats entering Hong Kong waters would be seized and the operators arrested. It was shortly after this that Hugh went on duty, took command of the vessel and in his parade-ground voice informed his crew of the orders from above.
They set off and were soon in their field of operations. It did not take them long to spot their first fishing boat. They closed up on the offending vessel and after ordering it to stop passed lines and boarded. Hugh monitored the situation from the bridge and noticed that the vessel in question was brand-new, its varnish and cleats still shining brightly in the now setting sun. Even the nets were new and unpatched.
The skipper looked up at the officers, nervous but still confident that he would be released after an identity check, search and warning. His nervousness turned to fear and distress when he, his wife and his son were transferred to the police launch and lines, were attached to the bow of his junk.
Hugh radioed the arrest into Marine Police Headquarters and was told to bring in his catch and get back out on patrol as a matter of urgency. Hugh gave the orders and the launch proceeded in the direction of Castle Peak.
Being towed at high speed it did not take long for the junk to start showing signs of wear and tear. Hugh watched guiltily as the junk was battered by the wash of the launch. He considered giving orders to his crew to reduce speed, but there was one very firm rule that could not be broken: never rescind orders; it shows weakness before the crew. Shortly before they arrived at Castle Peak a rogue wave overturned the junk. The owner and his family watched with tears in their eyes as their livelihood was destroyed before them.
Hugh never forgot that moment, and when he related the story to me over ten years later he still bore the shame and sorrow of not having had the courage to rescind his order.
Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2007 – Not for Publication