Thefts committed in Singapore aircraft during flight hit an alarming record high last year, with a staggering 87 per cent of those arrested coming from one single province in China.
Up till Dec 30 last year, the police arrested 41 people from Henan for such thefts, indicating that crime syndicates from the province are targeting unsuspecting passengers flying on Singapore Airlines (SIA), SilkAir and Tigerair.
In total, 47 people - all foreigners - were hauled up for the offence during the period, figures provided by the Attorney- General's Chambers (AGC) showed.
In 2012, 29 people arrested for stealing on board Singapore aircraft, or eight in 10, were also from the province. A total of 36 people were arrested that year for the offence.
The AGC said it is monitoring the trend closely. "If the trend persists and our assessment is that a further increase in the benchmark sentence is required, we will apply to the courts at the appropriate time."
The maximum punishment for such thefts is a three-year jail term and a $10,000 fine. The stiffest punishment that the courts have meted out so far is nine months' jail in July.
Mr Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs, supports tougher measures against these crime syndicates.
"These are not crimes committed on impulse, but through careful planning. Further, they undermine air travel and tourism, which are important to our economy, and SIA, which is a Singapore icon," said the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
Henan is a land-locked province in the central part of China. It is the most populous province in China with over 100 million people, but its per capita income is among the lowest in the country.
Associate Professor Li Ming-jiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said Henan natives have a bad reputation in China. "In big cities in China, the perception is that criminal activities like child trafficking, scams, selling fake products... are more likely to be associated with Henan natives."
But the trend surprised Associate Professor Lo Yuet Keung, who teaches Chinese studies at the National University of Singapore. "Maybe the word got out that these things could be done easily and you could get away with it, when that kind of word got around to the locals, they would go do it."