TT Talk - Container theft and inventory control

Theft of containers is a recurrent problem around the globe, often perpetrated by well-organised groups. On a sporadic basis it may seem impossible to combat, but

container operators need to be alive to trends or where there is a concentration of containers being stolen in a particular area

. It is most problematic in circumstances where containers start going missing with an established shipper/consignee.

This perennial issue was addressed by the Club in Stop Loss 7 ‘Container Loss’, and what follows is picking out some key elements from that advisory document. It is necessary to put in place checks to manage the risks, whether of theft or below optimal utilisation.

Export cargo bookings

The greatest risk of theft will generally occur prior to export and a number of checks can be made to reduce its likelihood.

  • Perform industry or financial checks on new customers consider length of time in business as well as structure and capitalisation. Carry out a physical or virtual (Bing/Google Maps) visit; be wary of residential areas.
  • Carry out similar checks of unknown hauliers. A combination of new customer and unknown haulier should be treated with suspicion.
  • Treat large bookings for multiple containers, especially refrigerated units, with suspicion. Challenge larger than normal bookings and seek permission to contact the actual shipper.
  • Where multiple containers are requested, release in small numbers and hold the subsequent units until the earlier ones have been returned loaded.
  • Don’t commit to supply ‘new’ containers
  • Charge for unusual extension of delivery period (free time), or be prepared to refuse extension. , only to meet the cargo/transit specifications given.

Genuine customers are likely to be ready to comply with these requirements - but be alert that

bogus trades can establish good standing for months or years before perpetrating the theft.

Keep a close eye on performance and take action quickly where there is a change in normal trade patterns.

Import cargo delivery

Delivery of laden containers may be slightly less at risk of theft, but it is also less easy to implement controls to ensure return of the empty container. In consumer markets, such as the US or Europe, there may be an increased risk of theft due to the value of cargo. Here are some recommendations.

  • Where possible, the shipping line should seek to control the transport used for the inland delivery (either owned or contracted). Only allow loads to be hauled by members of recognised trade associations (eg. UIAA in the US), which frequently require minimum insurance to be in place.
  • Containers should not be off-loaded from the vehicle at the consignee’s premises without special permission.
  • Where there are multiple consignees, seek to ensure the goods are removed whilst the container is still on the vehicle and with the driver in attendance.
  • Where goods are cleared inland, this should be done at an established ICD. Where newly established ICDs or de-consolidators are involved, insist upon bank guarantees before allowing containers to be delivered for unpacking.
  • Where these controls are impossible, carry out financial or industry checks on any unknown company similar to those for export bookings. Insurance checks should be included.. Where newly established ICDs or de-consolidators are involved, insist upon bank guarantees before allowing containers to be delivered for unpacking.

It goes without saying that full records, including details of customers and hauliers, should be maintained for each container and system audit trails are essential.

Where you have doubts, the Club recommends obtaining deposits for the containers, particularly in respect of high value equipment. However, ensure that cheques/deposits clear through the bank prior to releasing the units to the party wishing to use them.

For high value units it may be worth considering implementing tracking devices - but clearly they should be discreetly and securely placed (for example inserted into corner posts) to preclude removal.

Staff Author

TT Club