/ 12 August 2009

‘Staggering’ number of drug smugglers entering SA

The number of people smuggling drugs into South Africa is ”staggering”, an Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) manager said on Wednesday.

The company’s head of security, Jason Tshabalala, told Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport that many smugglers were able to pass through European airports on their way to South Africa.

”The number is staggering,” he said during the presentation on the state of readiness of airports for the 2010 World Cup.

”The number of people carrying drugs into South Africa is increasing tremendously.”

He said, however, that drug smuggling was ”a global problem”, not confined to South Africa.

Airports around the world were experiencing the same problem.

”The security is not foolproof.

”At the end of the day it is a global problem and we have to deal with it.”

Tshabalala said Acsa was using the best technology available to search for drugs.

There was a human element in the screening process that could lead to errors and smugglers slipping through the system.

”In South Africa we have put extensive measures in place. But there will always be an element of human error.”

It was not possible, he said, to use sniffer dogs to screen each bag.

”We are processing 20 000 pieces of luggage a day. If we use dogs as well, that will slow down the whole process.”

Discussing the perennial problem of baggage theft at airports, the managing director of Acsa, Monhla Hlahla, told MPs on Wednesday that people in this country have become so used to it that they have given up reporting it.

”People are so gatvol of complaining,” Hlahla said. But she insisted that the complaints are helpful to the airports company — they help identify where the weaknesses in their current systems are. ”We are only as smart as you enable us to be with information,” she said.

Since Acsa had taken over from the airlines responsibility for baggage security from the moment a bag enters its system, the company knows ”in real time and on time” exactly where the bag is, and if it should disappear the system knows where and when it did so.

But she agreed that the system is still not perfect. The target for next year is that pilferage should be cut to eight bags per 1 000 handled (the worldwide benchmark would be 20 bags per 1 000). And John Neville, the group executive for airport services, explained that in the year 2007/08, pilferage affected 30 bags per 1 000, and last year, when Acsa took over from the airlines, that figure dropped to 18. So far this year it is at 12.

”But eight to one thousand is still too many bags,” Hlahla said.

She asked for the cooperation of passengers, not only in complaining about their losses but also in securing their bags before committing them to the baggage handlers.

”How you pack, and how you secure your luggage also helps us,” she said. — Sapa, I-Net Bridge