Hong Kong has no sales tax, something that makes successful smuggling hugely lucrative.
Mainland China is also awash with fake brands while regular food health scares have reinforced the demand for international goods.
Until the crackdown sparked by the marine officer’s death, smugglers often relied on sheer force of numbers.
Each day, dozens of Chinese mainland vessels would wait just outside Hong Kong’s waters near the city’s airport.
Speedboats stuffed with goods, some of them fitted with as many as six engines to outrun police, would then emerge en masse and rush to the waiting mainland boats.
Some of these dramatic recent smuggling runs were captured on camera by members of the public using phones.
While Hong Kong has long been one of the safest cities in the world in terms of street crime, triad organised crime gangs have a long presence in the city.
The gangs trace their origins to 19th century Chinese fraternal organisations.
Most fled to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan when the communists took power in mainland China in 1949.
But in recent decades, most triad gangs switched ideological allegiance and embraced Beijing.
Since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from Britain, some of Beijing’s most ardent critics have found themselves at the wrong end of a triad assault.
Major gangs like Wo Shing Wo, 14K and Sun Yee On have a presence in both Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland as well as links to international organised crime.