Zhang Giang, a Chinese thief, was caught trying to steal from other passengers on a Vietnam Airlines flight from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City on January 19, 2014
Vietnam's aviation authority has asked the Ministry of Public Security to investigate a series of in-flight thefts which it believes to be the work of an organized crime syndicate comprised mainly of Chinese nationals.
Lai Xuan Thanh, director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, made the request at a recent meeting with the National Civil Aviation Security Committee, after ten thefts were discovered this year on Vietnam Airlines’ domestic and Southeast Asian flights.
A report from the national carrier listed 28 such thefts on its flights in 2012, and 15 last year. It said most of the thieves were Chinese nationals from Hunan, Henan and Jiangsu provinces; most were men around 40 years old, who received cash fines, flight bans and deportation.
“They usually waited until the plane was stable and the passengers were taking a rest, or a nap, to rifle through luggage they had eyed before,” Thanh said.
Most recently, Wang Xingao, a 41-year-old Chinese, was caught on a Vietnam Airlines flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on April 30.
The man was filmed searching through a bag stolen from another passenger, by off-duty flight attendant who then reported him to the cabin crew.
Wang was arrested when the plane landed and deported after being fined VND1.5 million (US$71).
His compatriot was arrested on March 31 for stealing $710 from a European passenger on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong.
Gouliang, 41, was arrested on another flight from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City March 1 while searching through the luggage of an Australian passenger.
Thanh said there’s reason to believe the thieves belong to an organized ring, working individually or in groups. Two Chinese thieves arrested in separate incidents in January were both traveling in groups of other Chinese.
Investigators believe that the group includes at least ten Chinese who target Vietnam Airlines flights. Five of them have been arrested so far this year.
Thanh said he has asked the ministry to establish a special unit to target the in-flight thieves.
“We have asked the carriers to train their employees in detecting the thefts. Those discovered this year were all thanks to flight attendants.”
He said the carrier is responsible for the safety of luggage during travel.
A police officer from Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Binh District, where Tan Son Nhat International Airport is located, said in-flight thefts only started occurring in the last couple years.
Before that, a group of foreign thieves targeted luggage and passengers around the check-in and baggage claim areas of the airport, the officer said.
Carriers in the region have already warned their passengers to guard their in-flight bags after laptop, tablets and cell phones were reported stolen on several Cathay Pacific flights from Hong Kong to Europe, and flights from Hong Kong to several Chinese destinations.
Last year, Singapore sentenced eight Chinese to between nine and 16 months in jail for stealing from other passengers on Tiger Airways and Silk Air flights. Singaporean authorities have arrested 47 foreigners, including 41 from Chinese province of Henan for the same charge.
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