Suspicious Travellers on MH370 Become a Focus of Investigation
Updated March 9 - 1730EST
Malaysian officials say that at least two passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 have become persons of interest in their investigation.
At least two passengers were travelling on passports - one Italian and the other Austrian - that were reported stolen in Thailand in the past two years.
While it is not unusual in Asia for one traveller on a passenger manifest to be travelling on a stolen passport, it is highly unusual for two or more, experts say.
The two travellers would not have required Chinese visas as they were booked to fly KLM onwards to Amsterdan and then Frankfurt and Copenhagen. It has also been reported that the passengers with the stolen passports purchased their tickets to Beijing via China Southern Airlines (MH370 was a code share operated flight with CSA) at the same time.
While Malaysia's gateway airport - the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) - employs smart technology to process incoming and outgoing travellers it is not as sophisticated as other ports, such as Singapore or Hong Kong. Questions are being asked as to whether immigration officials at KLIA match passports against an Interpol database.
Interpol said on the weekend that the two passports were listed on its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents data base, and that no immigration service had searched for them. Security experts are pointing to the lapse as a major gap in aviation security.
Interpol maintains a database of more than 39 million travel documents reported lost or stolen by 166 countries. Immigration and border control officers can, in theory, use it to check the validity of a dubious travel document in seconds.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said Sunday: “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."
As reported earlier by My Savvy Traveller, it appears increasingly likely that the stricken Boeing 777-200ER was brought down suddenly by a catastrophic event. It is now believed that, given the findings about the improperly documented passengers, that investigators have widened their investigation to include the possibility of terrorism.
The reports of the stolen passports should come as a reminder to travellers to the region to take extra precautions to protect their documents. Thailand, in particular, is a centre for passport and credit card fraud. Travellers to Malaysia have also reported problems with having their credit and debit cards compromised.