Missing MH370: Security measures at region's airports tightened up

Missing MH370: Security measures at region's airports tightened up
Heavily armed Philippine anti-terrorist police patrol around Manila's International Airport terminal on March 11, 2014. Revelations that at least two people used stolen passports to board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have fuelled fears of a security breach, raising concerns across the region.

KUALA LUMPUR - Several airports in the region have begun tightening their security procedures after two passengers were discovered to have used stolen passports to board a missing Malaysia Airlines flight, raising questions about the level of security at busy airports.

Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines are reviewing their procedures to weed out fake passports while China and Indonesia said their systems were already secure.

Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority did not respond by press time to queries on whether they have ordered stricter checks at Changi Airport.

Although there is no link yet between the imposters and the disappearance of the Beijing-bound jetliner MH 370 on Saturday, news of their presence on board have set off alarm bells.

Interpol said in a statement that its database has records of more than 40 million missing travel documents, but complained that few countries use it as a matter of course.

Neither Malaysia nor any other country had checked the two stolen passports against the Interpol database. Reuters quoted an Interpol spokesman as saying that a check of all documents used to board MH 370 had revealed more "suspect passports", but did not give details.

"Essentially this case is exposing fundamental enforcement and investigation gaps that take place daily in this region," says Mr Justin Gosling, a security consultant and former Interpol officer based in Bangkok.

Malaysia's civil aviation authority has refused to give a description of the two men caught on the CCTV as they checked in and boarded the flight.

Experts say the lapse at Kuala Lumpur International Airport could be due to human error rather than a systemic security flaw. Still, they said, the episode raised concerns over a thriving fake documents industry and the under-use of available resources like Interpol's database.

One Asian-based expert, specialising in aviation and counter terrorism, said security in this part of the world is generally good.

"Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are regional hubs and maintain good standards," said the expert, who asked not to be named.

"This does, however, expose a weakness - of humans exercising instant judgments."

Indonesian aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo said that given the volume of passengers that airports handle, it was sometimes not practical to check every passport against the database.

Associate Professor Joseph Liow, who is with Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said it was unclear if all airlines had access to the Interpol database.

"It appears that the information is available but the question is access. It's not clear if it's easily accessible to the airlines as well as national agencies of the various countries," he said.

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