Monday, April 16, 2007

The forbidden four-letter word of 'fine city' Singapore

If you plan to go to 'fine city' Singapore, please take note that the Singaporean authorities are on their toes of a certain four-letter word, particularly within Changi Airport or the sea ports.

No it is not "f#*@" nor its Malay, Chinese or Indian versions. That word is OK as far as Singapore is concerned.

A Chinese Singaporean family underwent "hell" at Changi airport last month simply because one of them mentioned the word "bomb", in fact hell broke loose if you mention that word in front of airport security officers.

Madam Molly Tan (not her real name) of Tampines Avenue 5 wrote to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to complain how she and her family suffered at Changi airport.

Molly's family (her husband, daughter and son) planned a Darwin holiday for the March school vacation period and was supposed to depart on 09 March. Unfortunately, they were put in a situation by the security officers at the departure terminal, that was beyond their control and they were not able to make their trip.

Molly entered the immigration gantry at about 7.15pm with her 13-year-old daughter to have their passports scanned and their hand luggage checked whilst her husband stayed behind with their son (8 years old) at the ticketing counter to sort out the little boy's visa.

After having their pssports scanned, they proceed to the security gantry to have their hand luggage and bodies scanned. Her daughter passed the security gantry first, whilst Molly followed right behind her. A lady officer asked Molly to remove her boots for scanning, and she did as told immediately and put her boots inside the basket provided, for it to be scanned together with her hand luggage. Molly then proceed to the metal detector of which she cleared without the gantry beeping or detecting any metal objects.

Molly's daughter asked casually: "Mummy, why do you have to remove your shoes?"

Whilst putting on her boots, Molly replied her and said that "They (the security officers) are afraid that we might keep bombs in our shoes (which is why she need to take it off to have it scanned)"

Immediately, a security officer (name given) standing at the conveyor belt (in front of Molly) said with a very rude tone "repeat what you just said". Molly clarified with him what he meant - is it for her to repeat what she had told her daughter? He said loudly again, to repeat what Molly had just said. So Molly did exactly what the officer told her. She said to him that "my daughter asked me why I need to take off my shoes, and I told her that you guys (the security officers) are afraid that we will keep bombs in our shoes."

The officer immediately asked Molly to stand aside and said that he had to report it to his superior that Molly said the word "bomb" twice. Then a lady (name given) at the customs started hurling at Molly and her daughter and said that Molly said the word "bomb" twice and it is against the law and she can be sent to jail and they (the security officers) are calling the police.

According to Molly, the lady officer was so loud and rude and she shoved Molly and her daughter to the side, and refused to listen to her explanation. In fact, she got so aggressive that another officer (name given) had to come forward to stop her from further attacking Molly and her daughter verbally. Molly believe that the officers were deliberately provoking her by being rude and intimidating, in the hope that she will retaliate in kind, thereby making their unreasonable actions justifiable.

Despite her anger and the fact that her daughter was scared to tears by the situation, Molly knew she had to keep her cool. She sat beside her daughter taking down names of the personnel involved on her mobile phone. She was told to wait for another officer of a higher rank to decide on the matter, and she was still hoping whoever the higher ranked officer that was coming will have the logical thinking to acknowledge that what she had said to her daughter was a simple, harmless private conversation taken completely out-of-context.

At about 7.30pm, the sergeant-in-charge (name given) came and after Molly explained the full context of the incident to him, he refused to make a decision and decided to escalate it further to the Auxilary Police and State Police. He said that the word "bomb" is very sensitive and Molly should not have mentioned it twice.

Meanwhile, at about 7.40pm her son's visa cleared and her husband and son went in through the customs. After knowing what had happened, her husband tried to talk to the sergeant, further explaining to him that they are just a family going on holiday and what Molly have said to their daughter had been taken out of context. Again, no one was bothered to listen.

At about 8.05pm, they were informed by the airline personnel that the plane will have to depart and they will off-load the family's luggage from the plane. At about 8.10pm, the State Police arrived to take their statement.

According to Molly, in the entire episode, the State Police and the SWISS PORT personnel were the only ones who conducted themselves professionally and offered consolation and meaningful advice to her family. They have also at some stages expressed their personal views that they acknowledged that the incident was gravely mis-handled on the part of the security officers.

The State Police further confirmed that there is no case against Molly, and they would just need to complete the paperwork. Molly and her daughter's statements only completed at about 10.45pm.

For the ordeal that her family had been put through, Molly would want an official reply from CAAS and all relevant authorities addressing the following:

* whether the security officers were trained to handle passengers with such bad attitude and rudeness and if such actions by them are condoned by authorities. (Molly also insisted the CAAS to refer to the CCTV recordings during the period of the incident).

* what actions would be taken by CAAS and all relevant authorities with reference to both the security officers (nameds given) for their unruly behavior and attitude? (Molly said characters as such do not belong to a national airport that aspired to be a world class travelling hub).

* whether all the officers concern are properly trained and competent to handle such situation. Besides hardware (i.e. the protocol book), are they taught to apply the software (i.e. common senses)?

* is it really a protocol that as long as the word "bomb" is mentioned twice by a person (once being asked to repeat by the officer) then no matter what context, tone, situation and profile of the person who said it, it would not be taken into consideration?

Molly said her case was clearly not verbally threatened staff members in the aviation service or had deliberately caused public alarm using sensitive words.

So, if you wish to go to Singapore, please refrain from saying the forbidden four-letter word BOMB!

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