The History of Marine Region
Marine Region has experienced periods of growth, re-organisation & challenge and these have mirrored similar periods for Hong Kong itself. The links below offer access to more detailed information of the specific periods of history of the Region & a ‘Chronology of Events’
- The 1st Expansion (1846)
- The 2nd Expansion (1860)
- The 3rd Expansion & Re-organization (1872)
- The 4th Expansion & Re-organization (1900-1941)
- The 5th Expansion & Re-organization (1948)
- The 6th Expansion (1964-1979)
- The 7th Expansion & Emergence of New Challenges (1980-2000)
- Versatile Maritime Policing Response (2000-2010)
The 1st Expansion (1846)
In 1846 a sailing 'gun-boat' with a crew of 17 entered service and was used for anti-piracy work until sadly lost with all hands in the typhoon of 1848. In 1847 the Unit was expanded to approximately 40 men and two more boats were obtained. Each Constable in a six-man crew was armed with a pistol and a cutlass.
The 2nd Expansion (1860)
The acquisition of Kowloon in 1860 meant that the waters of the Harbour almost doubled in size and this led to an expansion of the Water Police to approximately 130 men. The number of boats also increased with routine patrols done in rowing galleys. In 1868 a large sailing junk was brought into service for anti-piracy patrols and this was joined by a steam gunboat between 1870 and 1872. From 1868 the unit carried out duties on behalf of the Harbourmaster in addition to its Police duties.
The 3rd Expansion & Re-organization (1872)
Following the 'Police Commission' of 1872 the Unit was further expanded to over 150 men; a strength it was to maintain to almost the end of the century.
In 1878 steam launches again entered service and in 1894 steam pinnaces were first used for full-time patrol of the Harbour. The introduction of steam power resulted in over half of the strength of constables being either transferred to land police posts or dismissed and in the late 1890's the first engineers were taken on strength full time.
In September 1884 the new Water Police Station in Tsim Sha Tsui (now Heritage 1881) was opened.
The 4th Expansion & Re-organization (1900-1941)
The lease of the New Territories in 1899 made it necessary to police a vastly increased area and this brought about a radical change in the organization and strength of the Water Police.
Between 1900 and 1941 strength steadily increased from 196 to 323 and an entirely new rank structure and organization was introduced to handle the much larger vessels that came into service. In 1926 wireless telegraphy was introduced and greatly improved communications. During this time much attention was given to the problem of piracy with pirate attacks even taking place on Police stations on outlying islands, such as Cheung Chau in 1912.
In December 1941 much of the fleet was scuttled to avoid it falling to the Japanese after the fall of Hong Kong. The Water Police Station in Tsim Sha Tsui served as the headquarters of the Japanese navy during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.
The 5th Expansion & Re-organization (1948)
After the Second World War the whole Police Force was completely re-organized and this had a major impact on the Water Police. Firstly the name was changed from 'Water Police' to 'Marine Police'.
Secondly a Marine Police CID was established; and thirdly the Sai Kung Peninsula and associated islands, Lantau, Cheung Chau and the islands to the West of Hong Kong were transferred from the Land Districts to the Marine Police. The Marine Police became a division of 'Kowloon & NT Command' and was commanded by a Superintendent. By 1952 strength reached 400 and increased over the next decade to over 500.
The 6th Expansion (1964-1979)
After the ‘Trench Report’ (1960) and ‘Operation Hazlemere’ (the major influx of Illegal Immigrants in 1962) the unit was again expanded and re-organized to become a 'District' of the same standing as Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and NT Districts; commanded by an Assistant Commissioner. The policing of the Sai Kung Peninsula was transferred back to land under Kowloon Command.
During and subsequent to Operation Hazlemere a number of craft were added to the fleet on loan or transfer from other departments with the strength increasing to over 100. The addition of new and replacement launches caused an increase in personnel to over 1,600 by 1979. A series of Operational Bases were established around the coastline and the Command was divided into two Divisions: 'Harbour and Islands Division' and 'Sectors and Bases Division.' In addition to this in 1979 the Small Boat Unit was formed and took over duties previously performed by the Royal Marines of the Royal Navy.
In 1974 to help address the illegal immigration influx from China, the Government introduced the ‘Touch Base Policy’. This policy was intended to only allow those illegal immigrants who entered the Territory and successfully made it to the urban area to register with the Immigration Department, to be allowed to stay. Those intercepted before reaching the urban area were immediately repatriated. By 1980 it was evident that the policy was having no deterrent effect and it was therefore abolished in October 1980 with the passing of the Immigration (Amendment) (No.2) Ordinance.
The 7th Expansion & Emergence of New Challenges (1980-2000)
The major Illegal Immigration problems of 1978-1980 brought about this expansion which was the first expansion / replacement programme that was planned to cover a period of ten years.
Apart from a major expansion in the number and replacement of vessels, the Command structure was totally reorganized and new, self-sufficient bases were planned, the first to come into commission being Aberdeen in 1986. In 1981 Support Bureau was set up to help oversee the expansion and to ensure that the Region’s specialised maritime requirements were properly catered for so that it could carry out its operational policing commitments.
The operational concept lying at the heart of the expansion was the “Ring of Steel” and this involved the deployment of large radar equipped patrol craft to form an interlocking ring of radar coverage of the Territory’s boundary to ensure boundary integrity. As part of this three new classes of launches entered service, the DAMEN Mk I, II and Mk III.
By the early 1990s advances in vessel design and engine technology meant that the Region was now faced with different challenges compared to those of the past. Smaller, faster vessels were increasingly seen being used for illegal activity, such as illegal immigration and smuggling. At this time smuggling syndicates turned away from using small recreational built speedboats to using purpose built high-powered smuggling craft fitted with multiple outboard engines and capable of carrying large quantities of contraband up to the size of a private car. These vessels became known as ‘Daai-Feis’.
To address the ‘Daai-Feis’ the Anti-Smuggling Task Force was formed in 1992 and this saw close co-operation between the Police, Customs & Excise Department and the Royal Navy. In 1996 the Small Boat Unit and Anti-Smuggling Task Force were combined to form the Small Boat Division. The Region also strove to address the issue of the use of high-powered craft for smuggling via new legislation and this resulted in the introduction of a restriction on the number of and combined power of outboard engines that could be fitted to vessels (Cap.60 Import & Export Ordinance Section 14A).
In 1993, two Districts were formed, Marine Western Waters District consisting of South, West and Harbour Divisions; and Marine Eastern Waters District consisting of East and North Divisions. At that time the command structure of Marine Region was very similar to land regions and strength had increased to just under 3,000 including civilian posts.
The return of sovereignty to China in 1997 saw the implementation of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ concept and this meant that the HKSAR retained its status as a free port and as a separate customs territory. This meant that the issue of smuggling remained.
Versatile Maritime Policing Response (2000-2010)
By the year 2000 it was clear that the operational environment faced by the Region presented particularly by the increased use of smaller, faster vessels for illegal activity, was such that the Region needed to review and re-think it’s operational approach. The steps taken to address the challenges of the 1960s and 1970s were not suited to the new environment and there was a need to move away from the use of large numbers of major sea going launches to the use of smaller faster craft. This coupled with the operational priorities associated with the implementation of the ISPS Code resulted in the conception of the ‘Versatile Maritime Policing Response’ (VMPR) concept.
VMPR involved the use of a ‘Central Command System’ making use of land and seaborne radar systems together with remotely operated day-and-night cameras, floating operating platforms and newer, smaller and faster craft to more effectively police the waters of Hong Kong and enforce boundary integrity. The introduction of VMPR required major planning and development and saw the replacement of the DAMEN MK I,II and III classes of patrol launch by a range of Forward Operating Platforms, Medium Patrol Launches and Divisional Fast Patrol Craft, supported by an integrated system of land based radar and day and night cameras, with the whole system going live in 2010.