Chinese thieves raiding Thailand duty free shops and fleeing on flights
Mainland thieves a headache for shops at Phuket International Airport
A spate of thefts by passengers from China who help themselves at duty-free stores in Phuket International Airport before making airborne getaways has prompted debate about security.
The issue of the brazen thieves was raised at a meeting between airport authorities, shop owners and Chinese airlines and tour operators on Tuesday.
Shoplifters sometimes escape punishment after making it aboard their flights because of a reluctance by pilots to delay take-off - and an apparent reluctance by security staff to press the issue.
In the most recent incident, a thief made off with cosmetics from the airport's King Power duty free store on October 16. The thief was spotted on security cameras dashing for a flight.
Airport security officers were at the plane's door within two minutes of the theft being detected, the meeting was told. But instead of allowing the security officials to board the aircraft, the captain ordered cabin staff to retrieve the cosmetics and return them, and left it at that. The plane and thief then took off for China.
The captain of an earlier China-bound flight allowed pursuing security officers to board the plane to retrieve costly stolen cosmetics but refused to hold the flight to allow for the thief's arrest.
The names of the Chinese airlines involved were not disclosed.
The incidents raised the issue of whether stopping a suspected criminal is more important than a timely take-off. Who has the power to order a flight to stop, a representative from Thai Air Orient asked at the meeting?
"I do," said Kanputt Mungklasiri, executive vice-president and deputy general manager for operations and maintenance at the airport. "If it's a concern about security or safety, we certainly have the power to stop aircraft leaving Phuket."
Kanputt, who chaired the meeting, said he planned to hold further talks with King Power to find a way of preventing thieves from escaping without facing punishment.
Representatives from Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, as well as airlines based in Hainan , Shanghai and Sichuan were at the meeting, where a range of security issues were discussed.
The behaviour of their tourists has been debated widely and criticised heavily in China, and Beijing released official guidelines this year.
Tuesday's meeting was also told that Phuket's new Terminal X, where most passengers from charter flights will be processed, should be open before January 1.