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The Phuket airport thieves at Thachatchai police station today

Phuket Airport Pilferers Beat Baggage Security

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
TWO baggage loaders who pilfered items regularly from luggage on departing flights were not the only thieves operating at Phuket International Airport, police said today.

A major change in the airport's system appears to be required to end the thieving, along with a review of existing security.

The two men were caught yesterday after a departing Australian passenger with Thai Airways on Sunday noticed in Bangkok that a telephone and an iPhone were missing.

Apprehended by full-time airport security staff about 8.30pm last night, the two men told Phuketwan today that they stole from baggage as it was being loaded into departing flights.

Santi Tolawee, 24, said that many others also took items and it happened all the time. ''We weren't the only ones,'' he said. ''There are teams of four doing the loading, so everyone gets to see what everybody else does.''

He said he had been working for the sub-contractors hired by the airport for six months, while the other arrested man, Ha Sem Kamidoy, 18, had been employed for two months. He started work immediately after his birthday, at a rate of 7000 baht a month.

Overtime usually boosted the pay to 10,000 baht a month, Khun Ha Sem said. ''We always looked for bags that were easy to open, especially the ones with strip fastening seals. People are not always careful with their valuables.''

The robberies usually took place either as a conveyor belt carried the baggage to trucks on the tarmac, or as the team of four loaded the baggage from the truck into the aircraft's cargo hold. The thieves always counted on the goods not being noticed as missing quickly.

Airport security staff would often check what the casual baggage loaders were carrying as the men clocked off, but they avoided detection by claiming the pilfered goods belonged to them.

''We never took laptops because they were too big and we could not have escaped with them easily,'' Khun Ha Sem said. ''It was never going to be easy explaining away a laptop. But we could always say that the telephones and other smaller stuff was our own.''

How many times did he rob passengers? ''I lost count,'' he said. ''We did it whenever we could.''

Security cameras were never a problem because they always took account of where the camera was pointing and did the pilfering out of harm's way.

Police pounced on the pair last night after the Australian complained to Thai Airways in Bangkok. More valuable telephones, watches, small cameras, sunglasses, a small hard-drive, bracelets and iPhones were found at the rented accommodation of Khun Santi in Mai Khao, not far from the airport.

Police Lieutenant Rassada Kungwong of Thachatchai Police said that officers recorded about five or six cases a year of theft from baggage at the airport, but clearly there was much more that went unreported.

Officials at the airport were not available to comment to Phuketwan today on the extent of the robberies, or whether the sub-contracting system would be reviewed.

There was a high turnover of staff among the baggage loaders, the two arrested men said.

Travel insurance firms face a difficult task in assessing whether holiday robberies are genuine or fake. Just last week, a 20-year-old Australian woman confessed to making a false report to Patong police that items had been stolen so she could claim insurance.

Comments

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Where are the supervisors (both sub-contractor and PIA)? That contract should be terminated. If they can get out with small items, then they can get in. Anybody checking for items that might go onto a plane that you don't want? You know what I'm talking about.

Also, do they do a background check on these guys? I mean a serious one, not just check their ID cards. References, lie-detector, etc... This is a secure area and needs to be treated as such.

Posted by Amazing Thailand on June 23, 2010 18:12

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What's criminal is 7000 baht a month salary for hard labor. No wonder they steal.

Posted by Horse Doctor on June 23, 2010 19:46

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Oddly, on a flight out of Kuwait once, I managed to gain a Tiffany bracelet. Opened up my suitcase at home and there it was. Made a change from having things nicked.

Posted by Hannah Goldman on June 23, 2010 21:01

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Easy to control !
Strip search when they leave the airport.
They are not allowed to bring any items at all, telefones etc. they are working anyway, so not need to talk telefone, when finished work strip search by security personnel and metal detectors !

Posted by Karsten on June 23, 2010 21:37

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This is not an isolated incident. Phuket Airport is well-known for thieves like this (don't call it pilfering - they are thieves who do not give a damn about those that they steal from).

The airport management must be fully aware of what is going on in the baggage handling area - it's such a common occurrence.

Staff employed in these areas should undergo body searches before they leave the area, and CCTV should be monitoring them all the time.

Posted by Simon Luttrell on June 23, 2010 22:30

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If you are silly enough to leave a 25-30K telephone in an unlocked bag which is being lugged by a fellow who earns 7000 THB per month then you probably deserve to lose it. This kind of thing happens in every country in the world. Travelers should be more careful and take more responsibility for their personal items when in transit.

Posted by AC on June 24, 2010 07:26

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Yes, no one should leave valuables in their bags. But ! Shouldn't Phuket airport, or any other airport, abide by international rules, security or otherwise ? Are they not checked when leaving their job ?

Are there no metal detectors? How do they manage at other international airports ? Maybe Phuket's airport manager should find out !

Posted by elizabeth on June 24, 2010 15:09

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Have you ever seen the folks that offer the plastic wrapping service for your suitcases. They are there to protect your belongings from leaving your case and other foreign objects entering your bag, without your permission. Use them for your own security and peace of mind.

Posted by Graham on June 25, 2010 09:13


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