International relations

SA to tighten airport security

19 February 2009

The government has instructed Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa to take urgent steps to beef up security at South Africa's airports.

On Monday, 15 South African Airways (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 has been accused of being in possession of contraband. In January, 50kg of dagga and 4kg of cocaine was discovered on an SAA crew bus at Heathrow.

Briefing journalists after a Cabinet meeting in Cape Town on Wednesday, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the 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," Maseko said.

A special task team made up of representatives from SAA, Airports Company South Africa, the SA Revenue Service and the SA Police Service, was formed on Wednesday to take immediate steps to prevent drug trafficking through South African Airways and any other carriers that operate at the country's airports.

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, Maseko said, the task team would have to ensure that additional security measures were introduced immediately to prevent further abuse of the existing security checks for airline crews.

SAA is cooperating fully with the British authorities in their investigation, as well as another investigation in Johannesburg involving SAA Aviation Security and the SA Police Service.

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

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.

Source: BuaNews


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