Cargo theft: A persistent threat to the global supply chain

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Overview of supply chain security

The issue of cargo theft affects every stakeholder in the supply chain and beyond. Globally, it remains one of the top four categories of claims in terms of value for insurers like TT Club. According to statistics from NAVCIS Freight, there were nearly 4,500 recorded cargo theft incidents in the UK alone during 2020, averaging over 12 incidents per day. However, many more incidents likely go unreported.

The evolution of cargo crime

Cargo theft is not a new problem, but it gained prominence in the UK in the 1980s due to increased consumerism. Organised criminal gangs made huge profits by stealing goods and selling them to bargain-seekers. The police's regional crime squads helped reduce cargo crime significantly during that period, but their disbandment around 20 years ago left a void that has not been filled.

Organised cargo crime gangs

Today's cargo thieves operate like successful businesses with dedicated roles, intelligence networks, vehicle fleets, logistical systems, warehouses, and outlets for disposing of goods wholesale. They have informants in shipping lines and logistics companies, qualified HGV drivers, and links to transport companies involved in both legitimate and illegitimate trade. They use the latest technology, such as trackers, GPS jammers, encrypted phones, and cloned vehicles.

Motivations and impact

Financial gain is the primary motivation for cargo crime, as high-value goods can be stolen at little cost and risk, with pure profit from selling them. However, the impact extends beyond insured losses. Cargo crime drains police resources, causes business disruptions, and reputational damage, and facilitates other illicit trades like drug and human trafficking.

Challenges in law enforcement response

The police response to cargo crime has been inadequate due to budget reductions, manpower shortages, and a shift in policing priorities. Cargo theft is often considered a low-urgency, insured loss with no immediate threat to life. Investigations are rare, and there is a lack of cross-border cooperation and specialised units dedicated to cargo crime.

Prevention and awareness

In the absence of robust law enforcement action, the industry must take the lead by investing in preventive measures, such as secure parking facilities, tracking devices, forensic solutions, and information sharing. Initiatives like TT Club's collaboration with BSI to analyse and visualise global data trends, and partnerships like the Motorway Buddy driver app, aim to raise awareness and empower the industry to mitigate risks.

Stakeholder responsibility

All stakeholders in the supply chain should prioritise prevention by carefully considering transportation logistics, minimising stops, utilising secure parking areas, and ensuring driver safety. Giving proper thought to preventing cargo theft is far better than responding after incidents occur.


Cargo theft remains a persistent global threat, and prevention is extremely difficult given the limited resources, the ingenuity of criminals, and the potential spoils at stake. Raising awareness and identifying trends can assist stakeholders in mitigating risks and making informed security decisions.

Mike Yarwood

TT Club

David Thompson

Signum Services