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Sunday, February 8, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Update -- Luggage-Theft Problem Tied To Baggage Handlers At Miami

Seattle Times Staff: Seattle Times News Services

A small group of baggage handlers is responsible for millions of dollars of luggage theft annually at Miami International Airport, American Airlines officials said last week.

Thousands of pieces of jewelry, electronic equipment, cameras and cash have been pilfered from inside suitcases as planes arrive and depart. American handles about 90,000 pieces of luggage on 183 flights a day at Miami International.

American accounts for 47 percent of the airport's total passenger traffic, said Arthur J. Torno, the airline's vice president of operations in Miami.

Luggage theft peaked with $4.1 million in items stolen from passenger luggage in 1996, but was cut to $2.35 million last year because of airline action, Torno said.

Nationwide, about 2 million bags are checked each day, and only half a percent of those are damaged or broken into. American's luggage theft exceeds that, but officials won't say by how much.

The airline has placed video cameras in ramp and cargo areas and dispatched undercover security officers to roam around airplanes. Last year, a 19-member special security team was hired to watch ramp operations, and 44 baggage handlers were caught in the act, Torno said. They have been fired.

Latin American tourists are frequently victims because they fill suitcases full of merchandise and ship them home, authorities said.

Passport fees - U.S. passports have gotten cheaper this month, but some related fees have risen. First-time applicants age 16 and over pay $60, down from $65, for passports, and renewals cost $40 instead of $55, according to the U.S. State Department. Applicants age 15 and under will continue to pay $40 for passports. However, the fee to expedite a passport application - which guarantees processing within three instead of 25 business days - has gone up from $30 to $35. The notary service fee at overseas embassies and consulates has jumped from $10 to $55. Officials said all the fees were adjusted to more closely reflect the cost of providing each service.

Measles on cruises - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that crews of cruise ships should be vaccinated against German measles, noting that crew members live in close quarters where the disease can spread rapidly. The recommendation was spurred by two cases last year in which crews of Bahamas-Florida boats were affected by rubella. In one, six crew members were infected; in another 16 crew members contracted the disease. The CDC knew of no passengers who became ill. -- Times staff and news services

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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