Drug detection devices to be installed at airports

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Johannesburg - Sophisticated drug detection devices are to be installed at the country's major airports to prevent drug trafficking, following the arrest of South African Airways (SAA) crew members.

Fifteen crew members were arrested at the Heathrow International Airport last week after contraband was allegedly discovered in one of the member's hand luggage.

The detection devices are one of the recommendations made by a special task team established to review the additional measures put in place by SAA after the first incident in January when a crew member was arrested on the same charges.

The task team, comprising representatives from the airline, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), customs and the South African Police Service (SAPS), was also expected to identify immediate additional measures aimed at curbing drug trafficking.

The task team recommended that the luggage of crew members be physically searched with the aid of snuffer dogs.

Other recommendations include the installation of updated scanner technology with narcotic detection capabilities by end of March 2009 and that searches be conducted on both inbound and outbound aircraft to ensure no unauthorised goods are onboard aircraft.

The task team also said there should be improved co-ordination between SAPS and Customs Dog Units.

Bongani Maseko, ACSA's Operations Director, said ACSA would continue to work with SAA, the police and customs to ensure that the resolutions of the task team are implemented.

"Taking the government's concerns and directives into account, ACSA will assume responsibility for security and processing of staff through the SAA crew centre.

"We wish to assure all parties concerned that every possible measure will be put in place over and above the prescribed international standards to reduce criminal activity at the crew centre," Mr Maseko said.

Chris Smyth, SAA's acting Chief Executive Officer, thanked the task team for the work done so far and acknowledged that SAA could not resolve these issues alone.

"SAA has neither the capability nor the mandate for broader policing and security matters and we have requested assistance via the task team," he said.

Mr Smyth said other parties such as the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA) had also made valuable suggestions about ways to improve security, and negotiations were being held with the relevant authorities.

The SAA said it remained committed to a zero tolerance approach towards the use of the airline's services for any criminal activity and would continue to closely monitor the situation.

The 15 crew members have since been released on their own cognisance and will be required to appear back in London on 6 April 2009. The airline said it was cooperating fully with British authorities in an investigation which is currently underway.

An investigation in Johannesburg, involving SAA Aviation Security and the SAPS Crime Intelligence Unit, is also underway.