New X-ray machines target smugglers

Abu Dhabi customs has introduced new technology at the Ghweifat border post that better enables officers to identify illicit goods.

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Abu Dhabi // Powerful enough to spot a box of cigarettes inside a packed lorry, the UAE's new X-ray machines at the border with Saudi Arabia may keep the average smuggler awake at night. The Government last week installed one of four newly acquired heavy-duty machines at the Gheweifat border post, as part of a plan to improve border security over the next two years. All the country's border crossings, as well as Abu Dhabi International Airport and Mina Zayed Port, will eventually be equipped with similar machines.

Howard Nortcliffe, the senior equipment engineer for General Administration of Customs, said the X-ray machines would give customs officers a better chance of detecting contraband inside large consignments of cargo: "They can actually detect a cigarette packet within the carton." He added that the images delivered by the high-energy beams, which reflect off organic material, were of almost photographic quality. "Previously, it would have been a basic blur."

In addition to the heavy-duty machines for lorries, the Government's order also included four smaller, low-energy machines for passenger vehicles and one large, low-energy, drive-through machine for lorries. It also purchased three "mobile" low-energy machines that will be operated from vans that scan vehicles by driving around them. The low-energy machines expose people to very little radiation, so they can remain in their vehicles. The radiation from "one scan is the equivalent to flying for 15 minutes at 30,000 feet in an aircraft", Mr Nortcliffe said. The total cost of the purchase, from a US company, American Science and Engineering, was about Dh202 million (US$55m).

About 1,400 lorries enter Abu Dhabi daily at the Gheweifat crossing. Of those, about 20 per cent are empty, said Michael Krstic, a customs adviser with the General Administration of Customs. An additional 40 per cent are now pre-cleared to reduce waiting times at the border. Two years ago, every lorry making the crossing was made to queue, Mr Krstic said. "There is a huge modernisation [programme] to bring Abu Dhabi into the forefront of good security. The whole idea is to facilitate trade, to get these lorries and goods through the border as quickly as possible. The more equipment we've got, the less hold-ups."

Customs now also has a team in place to investigate apparently isolated incidents to determine if they are part of a bigger smuggling operation. "We now have the ability to take a single incident and do a strategic assessment for all of Abu Dhabi," Mr Krstic said. Customs officials also recently seized a large amount of antidepressant pills being smuggled across the border. Customs said its top priorities were stopping drugs from entering the country, as well as weapons and ammunition and explosive materials. Security is also a top priority, with officials focusing on money laundering and the financing of terrorism.