South Africa beefs up airport security after drug seizures

February 19th, 2009 - 12:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Cape Town, Feb 19 (IANS) South Africa has tightened its airport security after the arrests of several crewmembers of its national airline at a British airport on charges of possession of narcotic substances, BuaNews reported.
Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa was urged by the cabinet to take urgent steps to beef up security around South Africa’s airports, the report said Wednesday.

On Monday, 15 crewmembers were arrested in London’s Heathrow Airport, after cocaine was found in one of the staff members’ hand luggage. This is the second time in a month that South African Airways crewmembers were accused of being in possession of contraband.

In January 50 kg of dagga and four kg of cocaine was found in a South African crew bus.

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”.

“In this regard, the airline will set up a joint task team with the airport authority and the crime intelligence services to address the problem,” Maseko said.

On Wednesday, 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 to identify immediate additional measures that can be implemented to prevent drug trafficking through South African Airways and any other carriers that operate at the airports.

Measures include changing of security systems, physical searches of bags and use of sniffer dogs, among others.

Maseko added that the drug trafficking 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.”

South Africa will fully cooperate with the British authorities in their investigation into the crime, he said.

Meanwhile, the British authorities will probe the 15 South African crewmembers in London April 6. The crewmembers were released after the incident but the conditions of their release were not revealed.

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