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General News of Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Source: Graphic Online

Pilfering at Kotoka Airport on the rise

The frequent loss of valuable items from the luggage of passengers arriving through the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) is denting the country's image within the international aviation industry.

The situation is said to have assumed an alarming state in the last couple of months.

Checks by the paper revealed that the perpetrators have formed a gang and mostly target items such as mobile phones and their parts, computers, clothes and money.

They also look out for airlines arriving from China, Dubai and Turkey because many of the passengers are traders who travel to buy electronic gadgets, among other things, for retail in the Ghanaian market.

Although pilfering occurs in many sections of the airport - right from check-in to arrivals - the paper learnt that pilfering is more pronounced at the ground handling section, where some of the luggage handlers mostly force open the bags of passengers to steal valuable items.

The ground handling section is operated by Aviance on behalf of the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL).

It is in charge of the discharge of passengers' luggage from the aircraft into the conveyer belt for identification and collection.

Some passengers who arrived from Beijing, China, and Dubai in the United Arabs Emirates (UAE) onboard an Emirates Flight, EK787, on June 21, became the latest victims of the theft that the GRAPHIC BUSINESS witnessed.

Some of them had their bags broken into and items such as mobile phones, waist belts, power banks, jewellery and clothes stolen.

Although some of the victims lodged separate complaints to some senior ground handling staff, airport, customs and immigration officers then at the luggage collection unit, the staff refused to act with the excuse that passengers have always been advised not to leave valuables in their check-in luggage.

"Even if you go to the highest authority to complain, they won't mind you because we have been saying time and again that passengers shouldn't leave valuables like phones, iPads and things like that in their check-in luggage," one of the uniformed staff, who later refused to identify himself, told a victim.

Checks by the paper, however, indicated that a similar thing occurred about two weeks ago when some staff of Aviance were taken into custody for the loss of items.

The Director of Corporate Communications at the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Mr Ewusei Eric, admitted in an interview that the consistency and frequency of the pilfering was a worry to the authority, which regulates the local aviation industry.

"It can cast a slur on our reputation in the international aviation industry and even have implications on our numbers," he said.

Although the authority is not directly in charge of activities at the airport, he said it had asked the GACL, which it has supervisory role over the airport, to intensify surveillance at the ground handling section where the act is prevalent.

"As part of that, some CCTV cameras have been installed there to ensure that whatever goes on is captured and made available to senior security officers," he added.

The paper, however, learnt that the installation of the CCTV cameras, though helpful, will do less to reduce the problem as it is subjected to manipulation by some criminal-minded staff.

A media person who had his US$2,000 stolen in 2012 while going through check-in formalities at the Customs Section to travel to CĂ´te d'Ivoire was later given a video recording of activities at the unit, but the footage did not include the time his cash was stolen.

It is suspected that in many instances, some staff manning the cameras either switch off the CCTV; edit the video to erase the act or refuse to make it available to the victims or security for analyses.

The arrival and departure points at the airport have also been taken over by hawkers who sell call cards and padlocks, among other items, in the open.

Some frequent travellers narrated their ordeal to the paper, saying that some of the unauthorised people purporting to be selling are thieves who steal from passengers’ luggage at the least distraction.

They said some of the hawkers were either friends or relatives of the security guards on duty and were, therefore, allowed to sell freely.

They wondered why such persons should be allowed to harass passengers and worst of all steal from them.

Subsequently, they urged the authorities to ensure that the departure and arrival halls are rid of such hawkers to enhance free movement.

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