Minister mandated to beef up airport security

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cape Town - Cabinet has mandated the Minister of Safety and Security Nathi Mthethwa to take urgent steps to ensure that security around South Africa's airports, is beefed up.

In its ordinary meeting on Wednesday, Cabinet raised concern over reports regarding the arrest of South African Airways crew members on charges of possession of narcotic substances.

On Monday, 15 SAA crew members were arrested at Heathrow Airport in London, after cocaine was found in one of the crew members' hand luggage.

This is the second time in a month that an SAA crew was accused of being in possession of contraband. In January, 50kg of dagga and 4kg of cocaine was discovered on an SAA crew bus.

Briefing media after the Cabinet meeting, Government Spokesperson Themba Maseko said Cabinet was extremely concerned about the incidents which were "causing untold damage to the reputation of the national airline, the country and its people".

"The Minister of Safety and Security, Nathi Mthethwa, was mandated to take urgent steps to ensure that stringent security measures are implemented at all our airports with immediate effect.

"In this regard, the steps already taken by the airline to set up a joint task team with the airports company and the crime intelligence services of the SAPS to address this problem were welcomed," said Mr Maseko.

A special task team, comprising representatives from South African Airways (SAA), Airports Company SA (Acsa), South African Revenue Service (SARS) officials and the South African Police Service (SAPS) was formed on Wednesday to identify immediate additional measures which can be implemented to prevent drug traffic through South African Airways and any other carriers that operate at the airports.

According to a statement, the team will be expected to review the additional interventions implemented by SAA since the first incident in January and manage the urgent implementation of additional security measures.

Measures introduced by SAA include changing security systems, physical searches of bags and using sniffer dogs. These and other measures will now be extended across all SAA international flights.

However, Mr Maseko said the task team must ensure that additional security measures are introduced immediately to prevent any further abuse of the existing security checks for the airline crew.

He added that the development was totally unacceptable and must be condemned by everyone. "Anyone found responsible for these criminal acts must and will face the full might of the law," he said.

SAA is said to be cooperating fully with the British authorities in their investigation which is currently underway as well as another investigation in Johannesburg involving SAA Aviation Security and the SAPS Crime Intelligence Unit.

The crew members have been released on their own cognisance and will be required to appear back in London on 6 April 2009.

The conditions of their release are unknown and arrangements for their possible return to South Africa are being made, but this will depend on the conditions of their release.