'Shark-friendly' airline accused of shark fin trafficking

An international airline that backs shark conservation has been accused by environmentalists of being one of the world's major carriers of shark fins into Hong Kong.

Campaigners claim that Air Pacific — which is soon to be rebranded Fiji Air — carries shark fins as cargo on its passenger flights.

A letter signed by a coalition of environmental groups — and whose signatories include Ric O'Barry, star of The Cove — claims that a 'substantial amount' of the fins imported into Hong Kong last year arrived on Air Pacific planes.

A report by the South China Morning Post says that according to a group of pilots familiar with Air Pacific's operations, the airline's new Airbus A330 was "basically a thinly-disguised freighter" carrying shark fins to the territory from Pacific islands, which use Fiji as a trade hub.

Air Pacific recently sponsored a competition called Happy Hearts Love Sharks, run by the Hong Kong Shark Foundation, encouraging newlyweds to forgo the traditional shark fin soup served at their weddings. On its website the company proclaimed how proud it was to support the competition, saying "shark tourism is an important source of revenue for the local economy."

The competition winners were given a honeymoon in Fiji, courtesy of the sponsors. Ironically, if the claims made by environmental groups are correct, the happy couple may have been unwittingly sitting on top of a cargo full of shark fins on their return trip.

Air Pacific has seen a 20-fold leap in airfreight tonnage from Fiji to Hong Kong over the past three years.

Alex Hofford, director of the Hong Kong Shark Foundation, said: "It's not pineapples or electronics that are being flown here from Fiji - you can be sure of that." He believes that shark fins from the Cook Islands and Vanuatu were shipped to Fiji and appeared to be making their way to Hong Kong on Air Pacific flights, many of them to be sold on to the mainland China market.

Shark finning is legal in Fiji and conservationists are concerned that local fishermen are taking up the practice in greater numbers.

Shane Hussein, Air Pacific's manager for public relations and communications said the issue was being investigated.

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