SAA launches new measures to fight drug-smuggling

New equipment to detect drugs in the baggage of South African Airways (SAA) crew and passengers was brought into use on Wednesday morning, at the same time that random searches of crew baggage—as they left the crew centre—were undertaken.

The Treasury’s customs staff was also brought in to supervise the movement of crew baggage.

These measures were promptly put into effect by the airline after crew members were implicated in a drugs find at Heathrow airport earlier this week.
In January, 15 crew members were detained after British officials found 50kg of dagga and 4kg of cocaine, allegedly in three of their suitcases.

Chris Smyth, the acting chief executive of the airline, told Parliament’s committee on public enterprises on Wednesday about the new measures. He acknowledged that the damage to SAA’s image has been horrendous. “It’s disastrous,” he said. “It impacts on our ability to run an un-monitored operation. There will be a high level of interruption to our services.”

Smyth told the MPs that x-ray machines are not able to detect drugs, so special sophisticated devices have had to be bought in.

He explained that there are between 600 and 700 crew members leaving the crew centre each day, and it would not be possible to search all of them. “There is a pay-off between increased security and efficient service,” he said. “I think we got the balance wrong up till now.”

The earlier smuggling incident came about through collusion between a security guard and a crew member. The security guard provided three unrecorded baggage tags to the crew member, who attached them to the luggage containing the drugs. When the drugs were discovered it was possible for her to simply walk away from them. However, the guard made the mistake of giving her tags numbered in sequence, which allowed detectives to track her down.

In the most recent incident, the drugs bypassed all the baggage checking procedures because they were carried in hand baggage.

Meanwhile, the crew members implicated in the drugs find at Heathrow this week have returned to South Africa, SAA said on Wednesday.

SAA said 12 of the crew members detained in Britain in connection with the discovery of cocaine in hand luggage on the crew bus on Monday had since returned.

Three cockpit crew members would return from London later in the week, SAA spokesperson Robyn Chalmers said in a statement.

“The crew members are being interviewed by the [South African Police Service] and SAA’s security division,” she said. - I-Net Bridge, Sapa

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