The number of people smuggling drugs into SA is “staggering”, an Airports Company SA (ACSA) manager told Parliament yesterday.
ACSA`s head of security, Jason Tshabalala, told the National Assembly`s Portfolio Committee on Transport that many smugglers were able to pass through European airports on their way to SA.
“The number is staggering,” he said at a presentation on the state of readiness of SA airports for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
“The number of people carrying drugs into SA is increasing tremendously.” However, drug smuggling was “a global problem” and was not confined to SA.
Airports around the world were experiencing the same problem; the South African Press Association quoted him as saying.
Tshabalala said ACSA was using the best technology available to find and identify drugs. But there was a human element in the screening process that could lead to errors and smugglers slipping through the system.
“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.”
He added that OR Tambo International Airport alone “has more than 900 police officers on staff.”
Tshabalala also said 12 out of every 20 000 bags were tampered with at SA airports every day. Baggage pilferage at South African airports was well below the world benchmark, he said.
“The world benchmark for baggage pilferage is one bag per 1000 per day, screened and handled by ground handling companies,” he said.
ACSA`s target was to reduce pilferage to eight bags per 20 000 per day by next year, he said.
ACSA MD Monhla Hlahla said in most cases of theft out of luggage during international travel, ACSA had found that the bag had already been tampered with by the time it was registered on its system.
She admitted, however, that because so many passengers had experienced theft out of their luggage they could be feeling “gatvol” and did not bother to complain.
“The bulk of people could be so gatvol that they don`t bother to make a report,” she said.
She said ACSA was looking at starting a system of SMS messaging on cellphones to report incidents of luggage pilferage.
“We are only as smart as you enable us to be,” she said.
Hlahla said theft of goods at airports was a national problem. Investigations had shown that most goods that were stolen out of luggage were often taken back to “communities” and sold.
The company had managed the problem, she said.
“We have managed it. We pay teams above the airlines to go into the baggage areas and monitor.”
Hlahla said that the passengers could assist the company by the manner in which “they packed their bags”.