Fri, Oct 04, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Pyrotechnic cookies cook up panic at airport

SMOKE SCREEN?The owner said they were not explosives; instead, when lit, they produce smoke, yet the customs form described them as ‘lamps and lighting’

By Yao Chieh-hsiu, Tseng Te-jung, and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Two courier packages containing pyrotechnic devices caused a scare at the cargo terminal of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport this week, with the police and national security agencies put on high alert.

Arriving via a commercial courier company, the 40 pyrotechnic devices were wrapped up in two cardboard boxes. They were seized when going through custom checks at the cargo terminal’s Perishable Goods Center on Monday.

First mistaken for dynamite sticks, an X-ray scan seemed to indicate TNT (trinitrotoluene) and nitroglycerin, two common active ingredients used to make explosives. Also each of the cylindrical cartridges was outfitted with a blast cap and detonator fuse.

Aviation police said the two packages, weighing a total of 20kg, were sent from Hong Kong and labeled as “lamps and lighting equipment” on the customs declaration form.

Authorities said the origin of the shipment was China, and with a man surnamed Su (蘇) as the recipient.

Police and the Criminal Investigation Bureau tracked down the addressee on Tuesday, quoting the man as saying the package contained pyrotechnic devices, or “smoke cookies,” used in special effects for a television drama production.

Su said he was an employee at a film and video production company in Taipei, and the imported devices were for generating colored smoke, for producing a romantic drama series for Sanlih E-Television.

“The ‘smoke cookies’ are not for making explosions. When ignited, they will only create thick smoke. We needed to use them for a fire scene, where thick black smoke is needed,” Su was quoted as saying when questioned, adding that the main materials inside were sulfur and drying agents, with no TNT, nor nitroglycerin, in the device.

Su’s remarks however surprised veteran professionals who work on television and film production in Taiwan.

One expert said it bewildered him that companies still use the so-called “smoke cookies” in Taiwan.

“Although they are easy to handle, and come at a relatively low cost, the smoke generated is highly toxic. Only people in China use ‘smoke cookies’ now, they have almost totally disappeared in Taiwan,” he said.

“To simulate fire scenes or explosions and smoke situations, Taiwanese crews pour wax on burning coals, then sprinkle water on it, which creates copious amounts of smoke. Although the cost is higher, it is much safer. The toxicity and harmful effects on health are equivalent to one 20th of a ‘smoke cookie’ device,” he said.

Police said a probe is continuing, with the Criminal Investigation Bureau examining the materials through chemical analysis.

Su, meanwhile, was released late Tuesday on NT$50,000 (US$1,698) bail, with a potential charge of “forgery” for falsifying information on the customs declaration.

As the packages were sent via courier air flight, he might also be charged for Offenses against Public Safety, and for violating the Civil Aviation Act (民用航空法), police added.

Additional reporting by Lin Yi-ju, Yu Juei-jen and Huang Tun-yen

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