TT Talk - Taking the stress out of distressed - UK case study


The consequences of clandestine migration are more than geo-political. In the freight supply chain the impacts include the activities of governmental border enforcement agencies, as well as the risks of contamination and damage to goods. Care is required for all the risks involved.

Around 6,000 driver accompanied freight vehicles enter the UK every day, the vast majority through Dover or Eurotunnel. Roughly 85% of this flow is carried by foreign (non-UK registered) trucks. There is also often no connection between the nationality of the driver to the truck, nor linkage of those to the source or destination of the cargo. 

As full EU membership has brought more freedom and less friction to new EU members, trucking fleets in these states have grown significantly. The 12-hour German border crossing that Polish fleets encountered, for example, effectively disappeared overnight. Many fleets grew by some 20%, purely by virtue of new opportunities that arose through the expanded geography. 

For such fleets, costs were low, equipment was new and the market was there for the taking. A study by Comité National Routier (CNR), Paris showed that a Bulgarian driver costs €0.11 per kilometre, whereas a Belgian equivalent would be more than four times that amount. As margins are low (circa 3%) in this sector, such a saving is significant, if not conducive to maintaining a level playing field. Eventually, the traditional western European operators adopted a policy of ‘if you can’t beat them, use them’, fuelling the growth even further and leading to a fragmented market.

Whilst this price conscious growth was dominating the market, so too was the increase in migrant activity, reaching its peak in 2016 when there were more than 10,000 migrants at the infamous Calais Jungle. The encampment has gone but the problem remains, only now it is more geographically spread (and even harder to control).

People smuggling is a sophisticated business with gangs reportedly charging in excess of €5,000 to conceal a migrant. It is alleged that HGV drivers are offered in the region of €600 per migrant to ‘look the other way’ while they are embedded in the load. Migrants now often enter the vehicle hundreds of kilometres from the port – and the longer they are in the load the more contamination occurs.

Border Force reported 56,000 illegal migration attempts detected in a 12-month period. However, no one knows how many succeed or how many loads are contaminated. 2019 also saw surges in clandestine migration with each Brexit deadline, as smugglers anticipated the border becoming more secure after Brexit.

Refrigerated trailers, usually containing food, are often the preferred host vehicle for the migrant smugglers as they are typically easier to get through the port detection process. Soft-sided vehicles pass through passive millimetric wave imaging (PMMWI) equipment and any irregularities are investigated with a manual vehicle search. However, these checks are conducted by port staff, not by Border Force. 

Solid-sided vehicles do not pass through the PMMWI scanners, as the equipment is not strong enough to penetrate the panels of the trailer. Instead, these vehicles pass through a heartbeat detection shed. Two geophone sensors are placed on the ground (to calibrate the background noise) and two are placed on the body of the trailer. The driver gets out of the truck, the engine and refrigeration unit are switched off, and any irregular signal suggests that migrants are present. This process takes around 10 minutes and the volume of traffic is high – around 15% of traffic is solid-sided vehicles.

Border Force search less than 10% of trucks and rely on French port staff to perform the necessary checks. Nowadays there are also sniffer dogs in the ferry allocation lanes, which are very effective, but again, mainly with soft-sided vehicles. At peak, Border Force issued 3,552 penalty notices in a 12-month period, equivalent to one every two hours. UK Government advice concerning illegal immigration and the penalties in place (unchanged for some two decades) may be found here

Oakland International, based at Redditch, UK, is a specialist in assessing a variety of loads that may have been contaminated by clandestine incursion. It works with major food brands to assure the quality of the food intended for mass consumption. Oakland is one of the only fully accredited companies providing this service and, more importantly, it assesses loads in full isolation to prevent cross contamination. Last year, Oakland handled 350 contaminated loads. However, an estimated 5,000 food loads were infected by stowaways during that same period. Worryingly, many of these loads ‘disappear’ and reappear after an incomplete and unauthorised clean up. Oakland has also seen a recent increase in other forms of contamination, such as insects and rodents. 

Many consignees reject a load that it is suspected to have been contaminated, but Oakland files show that, on average, 85% of the load can be safely recovered. As such, this specialist intervention can reduce the material loss. Fear of loss, however, is out of Oakland’s control and, despite checks, disposal of cargo is often a commercial decision made by the cargo interests and their insurers.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance in the preparation of this article of Rob Hardy of Oakland International 

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