SAA opens inquiry as UK arrests 15 crew over drugs haul

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South African Airways has opened an investigation after three pilots and 12 flight attendants were detained at London Heathrow yesterday by UK customs authorities.

The carrier says the detention took place after three items of luggage containing contraband were discovered on board a flight from Johannesburg.

UK Border Agency officers seized around 50kg of cannabis and arrested the aircraft's crew. The investigation has been passed to HM Revenue & Customs.

HM Revenue & Customs says all 15 suspects, following questioning, have been released on unconditional bail, pending further enquiries, and are due to report back to investigators at Heathrow on 23 March.

The authority's Heathrow spokesman says: "We, together with the UK Border Agency, play a vital role in the fight to prevent illegal drugs from entering the UK and in protecting our communities from the violence and corruption that always accompany this hideous trade."

South African Airways points out that no charges have been brought and says it has ensured the crew members have legal representation.

"We are co-operating fully with UK authorities," it adds, stating that it has a "zero-tolerance approach" towards use of its services for criminal activity.

South African Airways has opened an inquiry into the circumstances which also includes its aviation security division and the crime intelligence unit of the South African Police Service.