May 23, 2023 — These days, cargo theft may seem to be a thing of the past thanks to faster vessels and vehicles and improved tracking and tighter security. However, despite these improvements, cargo theft remains a thorn in the side of many organizations. India, for example, accounts for 64% of cargo theft incidents in the Asia Pacific region and even the US is not without incidents, reporting a net loss of $49 million in 2019 to $68 million in 2020 as a result of cargo theft.
In the Philippines alone, 1,582 shipping containers were reported stolen from between 2008 and 2016. In 2017, three suspects were arrested for the pilferage of P11 million worth of petroleum products while in 2022, two truck drivers and four helpers were arrested for the same offense, stealing hundreds of liters of petroleum before being caught by the police.
Though it may seem straightforward, cargo theft is a complex issue with different categories requiring different safety measures in order to defend against.
Pilferage is traditionally defined as the theft of small amounts of cargo and/or of items that are considered of low-value and conducted by small-time thieves often just making use of their inside connections. This description has slowly changed, especially in the Philippines, with petty thieves being able to steal up to millions of pesos worth of goods through modern means, though the number has slowly started to decrease with the rise of better data tracking and security features in vehicles.
This refers to the theft of large amounts of cargo and/or cargo that is considered expensive or of high value often occurring in places wherein cargo is left stationary and often unattended, such as truck stops, drop lots, or warehouses.
A more complicated form of cargo theft, this type is constantly evolving and can take the form of anything from fraudulent pickups, to identity thefts, all the way to coordinated armed heists.
A newer category of cargo theft, this is to date the most complex method. Thanks to the ease of access to personal and contact information that the internet allows, criminals are now able to commit cargo thefts through cyber-attacks, phishing schemes, and using technology to tamper with packages with little more than a push of a button.
The usual modus operandi or MO for cargo theft is to take high-value and essential goods. Globally, foods, beverages, and agricultural produce are the most commonly stolen goods constituting an average of 23% of all goods stolen between 2018 and 2021 followed by computers, televisions, and other electronics accounting for 10% of cargo thefts and construction materials rising from 5% to 9% of incidents in 2021 reflecting the increase in demand as a result of the pandemic.
In Southeast Asia alone, authorities recognize the common occurrence and the large demand for black market petroleum, some valuing the illegally obtained product at $2-3 billion annually. Others, such as principal at security consultancy Defence IQ Yousuf Malik, value it at a much higher amount – a whopping $10 billion annually, with an estimate that at least 3% of Southeast Asia’s petroleum consumption is sourced illegally.
As cargo theft continues to evolve and methods get more advanced and convoluted, here are a few measures that companies could take in order to defend against such incidents.
As the technology used for cargo thefts evolves and becomes more advanced, it is advisable to fight fire with fire, made possible with ever-advancing fleet management technology such as real-time tracking and security features like alarm attachments, location attachments, or even fuel sensors to detect any anomalies throughout the entire trip of each cargo-holding vehicle.
In addition, some fleet management solutions even allow you to set geofences or no-go zones. This can serve as a guide on which high-risk areas vehicles must avoid at all costs as well as an alarm to alert managers when vehicles do cross these forbidden locations.
Technology is merely a second line of defense in the battle against pilferage and theft. Having trustworthy people must always be the priority of businesses. Though it’s part of the standard operating procedure for most organizations, it’s worth emphasizing that due diligence in vetting and training workers is a key element of keeping theft incidents at bay.
Fleet managers should invest in good insurance policies for their fleet vehicles and cargo to prevent excessive loss in the event of a cargo theft incident.
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