It was the fourth seizure of elephant ivory in the past two years at the northern port of Haiphong, a transfer point for smuggling ivory from Africa to the lucrative Chinese market.

Bui Hoang Duong, head of the Haiphong customs inspections division, said inspectors had opened the container on Wednesday and found 2,194 kilograms of tusks. Each tusk was cut into three to four pieces and concealed among hundreds of packages of dried seaweed.

The state-run newspaper Thanh Nien reported Thursday the container arrived in Haiphong on April 28 on board a Hong Kong-registered freighter sailing from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Duong said the recipient of the container, the Thanh Long Import-Export Company, had come to clear customs on April 29. The customs declaration form indicated the seaweed was for temporary import and re-export, but it was not clear where the company planned to ship it to.

The company had requested the customs procedures be completed the same day, but customs officials found abnormalities in the declaration forms. Inspectors opened the container Wednesday and discovered the tusks.

International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, with the exception of occasional auctions from stockpiles.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), most elephant ivory smuggled into Vietnam is ultimately destined for China, but some is sold locally. A report issued by WWF in 2008 found ivory fetched between 770 and 1,200 dollars per kilogram on the Vietnamese black market.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - May 6, 2010