Cabinet tackles SAA 'drug-smuggling plague'

Cabinet has mandated Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa to ensure effective steps are taken to prevent South African Airways (SAA) personnel smuggling drugs on international flights, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Wednesday.

He said Cabinet was concerned about the untold and incalculable damage such incidents did to SAA, the country and its citizens.

This followed the latest incident in which 15 SAA crew members were detained at London’s Heathrow Airport on Monday in connection with the discovery of 2,5kg of cocaine in hand luggage on the crew bus.

In January, another 15 crew members were detained after UK officials found 50kg of dagga and 4kg of cocaine, allegedly in three of their suitcases.

This led to the arrest of an SAA cabin crew member and a security guard.

‘SAA a target’
Earlier on Wednesday, SAA acting CEO Chris Smyth said international drug smugglers had targeted SAA as a means to move their products into Europe.

Briefing the National Assembly’s public enterprises committee, he said the “drug-smuggling plague” SAA was currently experiencing was a movement of drugs in a supply chain from the growing areas of South-east Asia and South America into Africa, using Africa as a hub or transit point into Europe.

“And the point in Africa moves,” he said.

Kenya Airways had an enormous problem with drug smuggling some time ago, and when they tightened it up, Kenya became unattractive to the trade.

“So they simply moved to another country. It’s now SAA’s turn. And I say that because if you look in context, SAA has not had a drug problem since the four or five episodes ...
in 2005 and 2006.

“At the time increased security chased that problem away and we will do that again this time,” he said.

Smyth declined to provide too much detail, saying it would provide an opportunity for the drug smugglers to work around them.

However, steps included bringing in sophisticated drug-detection equipment as from Wednesday morning.

A task team had also been formed between SAA, the South African Police Service, the Airports Company of South Africa and customs.

“We’ve asked for help. SAA needs that help, we can’t do this alone. It is really not SAA’s sole responsibility to fight crime in this country. It is something that needs the collective effort of all players at the airport,” Smyth said.

He added that there was no doubt that the damage to SAA’s image was “horrendous, it’s disastrous” and had a widespread ripple effect on SAA’s operations.

“Not only does it bring SAA into disrepute, but it also raises concerns with foreign and local security agencies on SAA’s ability to run an unmonitored operation.

“This will no doubt bring in a huge amount of security and high level of searches and disruptions to our operations.

“So it remains absolutely critical that we nip this in the bud immediately,” he said.

After the first incident in January, SAA had strengthened security.—Sapa

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