TT Talk - Crime: avoid being a statistic

Cargo theft continues to be a constant threat to the global supply chain and an increasing drain on the economies they serve.

Alarming statistics continue to fill the pages of logistics publications globally, with billions of dollars of cargo reportedly stolen each year. TT Club, amongst other organisations, recognises that these statistics are drawn only from crimes which are reported. Arguably, therefore, they are not truly representative of the scale of the problem.

Enforcement priorities

Many law enforcement agencies locally, nationally and internationally are under tighter budgeting constraints and consequently need to marshal resources efficiently. Political and societal demands inevitably draw limited resource towards only the most serious of crimes, which will generally not be linked to the value of the cargo.

Rarely do law enforcement agencies engage actively in investigating cargo theft crime, resulting in perpetrators not being apprehended, and also a very incomplete picture of the freight crime horizon. This is a 'perfect storm', the consequences of which are of great concern to the integrity of the supply chain.

All too often, the law enforcement agencies are more akin to a reporting portal for cargo theft crimes, receiving reports of crimes and issuing a crime number. In many cases the fundamental formality of attending the scene of a reported crime is neglected, with reliance on an interview with the victim conducted remotely over the phone, often through a translator service. Where agencies do attend a crime scene, critical forensics and other evidence such as CCTV footage are rarely collected. Further, the lack of appetite to investigate freight crime fully is often evidenced even in instances where bespoke cargo is stolen and discovered for sale on social media platforms.

Reporting of a cargo theft crime is a simple task, largely without risk for those involved, providing further opportunity for any criminal organisation. This can be illustrated by a recent case where a driver, in his statement to the Police, claimed not to have heard or felt any disturbance during the theft of 10,000kgs of cargo from his trailer. Another (unidentified) driver witnessed the theft, however, and noted the registration of the vehicle the thieves used to steal the cargo. The vehicle was in fact a small family car, which a more robust investigation could have identified and led to further critical enquiries having been made. Instead, the Police report was completed and filed.

Assess the risks

The targeted cargoes are often high value, specialist items such as computer components, sports equipment and copper cathode. Of the thousands of loaded trailers in transit at any one time, these shipments are clearly being singled out with the perpetrators almost certainly having inside knowledge of the supply chain and predesignated markets for the stolen goods.

"high value. shipments are clearly being singled out with the perpetrators almost certainly having inside knowledge of the supply chain"

Furthermore, where significant volumes of cargo are stolen, planning is required, involving the use of large vans or trucks and the deployment of multiple personnel. Instances where outwardly unattractive freight which is in fact high value is targeted raise further concerns in respect of the flow of information through the supply chain, concluding that opportunism is being replaced by informed, low risk organised criminal activity.

Trend observation

TT Club has previously highlighted theft from various angles in the US and Europe particularly, including freight exchange internet sites and identity theft, which continue to be prevalent. However, whilst the targeted cargoes, routes and location of the thefts themselves remain varied and without pattern, there have been multiple cases in recent months where investigations have identified the driver concerned, whilst working for haulage operators all over Europe, to be of Romanian nationality.

Recent trends suggest that haulage operators and drivers from some Eastern European states offer their services at extremely low rates compared to industry averages. In the economic climate such savings are inevitably attractive. There is however an old adage 'if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is'.

Further, it would seem that drivers are regularly claiming to have been 'gassed' to justify the fact that they had apparently slept for 12 hours and not been aware of the hours of activity whereby gangs entered their vehicle to steal cargo. There is scepticism surrounding this theory which is supported by the UK's Royal College of Anaesthetists, given not only the difficulty in administering a 'gas' into a vehicle, but also the equipment required, the volume of 'gas' necessary to render a victim unconscious and, not least, the cost involved.

Such assertions stretch credulity. Anaesthetics are obviously very dangerous; doctors have to undergo many years of training to administer such drugs safely. In untrained hands, administering uncontrolled doses would likely be fatal, effectively constituting attempted murder in each case. The fact is that TT Club has not witnessed either fatal incidents or escalated investigations from respective law enforcement agencies.

Be alert

Such developments are highlighted in order to encourage logistics operators and freight forwarders to maintain robust due diligence procedures. Good practice necessarily extends beyond the initial selection of subcontractors to the close management of all contractors throughout the supply chain. Particular attention should be given also to designated overnight parking areas, particularly avoiding insecure areas close to the collection or delivery points.

"operators need to be especially vigilant in the lead up to the holiday season"

Apart from the trends identified above, operators need to be especially vigilant in the lead up to the holiday season, which brings additional pressures of urgent contracts, potentially higher volumes and staff absences.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director, TT Club

Staff Author

TT Club