As the search for the presumed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 entered its fourth day Tuesday, questions mounted about why security or immigration officials did not intercept the two Iranians who boarded with stolen Austrian and Italian passports. Although Interpol has expressed doubt that the two men presented a terrorist threat, the apparent inadequacy of a system that allowed them to board the missing Boeing 777-200 for China continues to confound international law enforcement officials.
While some might list the airline as a proverbial weak link in the chain of security safeguards, carriers can do little to prevent such breaches other than follow the required protocol of inspecting the passports for validity, visual alterations or forgeries, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
“Border control and security are the responsibility of the states,” it said in a written statement sent to AIN. “Airlines do not have access to the Lost and Stolen Travel Documents (LSTD) database. Furthermore, airlines are required by more than 60 States (including China) to provide Advance Passenger Information (API) to border control officials in advance of the flight to enable immigration officials to review passenger information for discrepancies.”
The Advance Passenger Information System (APIS), however, does not link directly to the LSTD database, requiring immigration or check-in staff to actively cross-reference passport information—not standard practice at most airports.
Interpol said it added the stolen Austrian and Italian passports to the SLTD database after their theft in Thailand in 2012 and 2013, respectively. However, no country had used the database to check the status of those passports between the time the agency entered them into its system and the departure of Flight 370.
“Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol’s databases,” said Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble.
“This is a situation we had hoped never to see. For years Interpol has asked why should countries wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates…Now, we have a real case where the world is speculating whether the stolen passport holders were terrorists, while Interpol is asking why only a handful of countries worldwide are taking care to make sure that persons possessing stolen passports are not boarding international flights.”
Interpol estimates that last year passengers boarded airplanes more than a billion times without having their passports screened against the agency’s databases.
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