430 Turtles found in flier's baggage

Hindustan Times
November 24, 2006

Aditya Ghosh

A Malaysian Airlines flight was recalled moments before take-off early on Thursday following a tip-off that a narcotics consignment was being carried on board. Only, it wasn't narcotics but 430 live star turtles.

Acting on a tip-off, the Air Intelligence Unit of the Customs informed the airlines to abort the take-off of the Kuala Lumpur- bound flight.

The plane came back to the parking bay and passenger Zahir Hossain (38) was asked to disembark. A check of Hossain's baggage revealed the endangered turtles. Customs and airport officers were surprised that the luggage screening did not detect them.

According to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the screening of baggage is the airline's responsibility. "They are supposed to carry out the checks. There are certain checks and balances we have but that is a periodic exercise," said Anil Singh, CISF deputy commandant.

But sources hinted at a bigger concern. "This is technical problem. The authorities do not want to spell it out but X-ray screening cannot recognise skin and muscles. If there is a mass which has skin, it is difficult to make out if the personnel are not careful," said an official.

Hossain hails from Ramnad area of Tamil Nadu, which is the natural habitat of these land turtles.

" Kuala Lumpur was a transit point. We believe the turtles were going to Europe where they have great demand as pets and fetch good prices. There is a much bigger racket," said Mita Banerjee, deputy director, western region, Ministry of Environment and Forest.

The turtles have been taken to Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Submitted by Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC SEA


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