Mile-high criminals targeting passengers on flights into Hong Kong on the rise
Figures point to an increase in theft during flights that land in Hong Kong
A new front in the battle to stem Hong Kong's rising crime rate has opened up which brings a whole new meaning to theft on the fly.
New figures obtained by the Sunday Morning Post reveal a rising tide of thefts on-board passenger jets flying into Hong Kong International Airport.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been 45 in-flight robberies - almost as many as the 48 in the whole of 2014. Half of these have taken place in the past three months, suggesting a fresh surge of in-flight pilfering as robbers take advantage of unsuspecting air travellers.
The criminal haul so far in 2015 - which has a total cash value of HK$3 million - includes cash, jewellery and smartphones. The figure tops last year's figure of HK$2.61 million reported stolen.
Detectives are also not ruling out the possibility that organised criminal gangs are behind the mile-high crime wave.
"In one or two cases we have made arrests, we do not see a link developing into syndicates who commit overhead compartment thefts, but we cannot rule out this possibility of organised crime," an airport police intelligence source said.
The police have appealed to the public to be extra vigilant with their belongings while flying: "Travellers should ensure their valuables and cash are with them and should not store these items in the overhead lockers."
August is the busiest travelling period for Hongkongers, with some six million travellers flying in and out of Hong Kong International Airport.
Last month, a mainlander flying Dragonair business class from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Hong Kong was arrested and charged on suspicion of stealing HK$10,000 from two luggage bags of a pair of passengers.
Out of the 45 theft on flights to Hong Kong, 23 people have been arrested for theft or disorderly conduct on aircraft, leading to 22 prosecutions. The figure does not include outbound flights.
Alleged thefts on overseas-registered flights outside Hong Kong airspace had gone unprosecuted because of ambiguity in aviation laws.
In 2012, the Department of Justice advised police to pursue theft crimes as disorderly conduct, which closed the loophole, enabling a near 100 per cent prosecution success rate for police.
Interview requests with Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Hong Kong Airlines' security chiefs were declined. Each airline said they treated in-flight security with high "importance".