Coronavirus crisis forces some cargo crime underground

Cargo Crime

Cargo crime is a global challenge one which negatively impacts supply chains, logistics providers and consumers. Over the years cargo crime has been on the rise, 2019 was a record-breaking year for cargo crime in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Cargo theft throughout the EMEA region rose 114.7% year-on-year to 8,548 incidents in 2019, according to the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA), totalling over €137m worth of goods.

The Coronavirus crisis has thrown various supply chains into chaos. Various sectors have slowed down or ground to a halt while some have seen a substantial rise in demand. However, there have been some unintended benefits of the crisis. According to a report by the UN, lockdown measures enforced by the government has significantly disrupted organised crime including the trade of cocaine. Trafficking illicit goods relies on legal trade to act as a ‘camouflage’, but the reduction in global trade has reduced the opportunity to do so.

Trucks are one of the biggest targets for cargo thieves, accounting for 95% of all freight losses in the EMEA region in 2019. However, due to lockdown measures implemented, streets and roads have been quiet acting as somewhat of a deterrent for organised crime. The lack of crowds on roads and streets has removed the opportunity for offenders to disappear and go undetected. Subsequently, to avoid being caught many may have chosen to go underground while lockdown measures are in place.

Of course, there are exceptions and cargo crime has not ground to a complete halt. Some thieves have seen the severe disruption to various supply chains as a window of opportunity. Between Sunday, March 1 and Friday, May 29, TAPA’s Incident Information Services received reports of over 400 thefts of products from supply chains, totalling more than €16.4m worth of goods.

Incidents have been reported in areas, such as Hong Kong, where cargo crime is relatively uncommon. The chaos caused by the Coronavirus crisis has stretched supply chains. Companies have needed to respond to difficult logistics market conditions, including reduced capacity and also varying demands across sectors. As a result, goods have needed to be transported along unusual routes where the risks, such as the level of criminal activity in the area, may not have been fully assessed. Additionally, border closures and congestion at ports and hubs has generated further risks, increasing transit times and subsequently the window of opportunity for thieves.

The Coronavirus has had many unforeseen circumstances, including what people define as an ‘essential good’. Prior to the pandemic, the goods which have been stolen including toilet paper, hand sanitiser and medical masks would have been considered bizarre due to their relatively low value. However, the pandemic has drastically changed the demand for these goods, and in turn, altered their value which has peaked thieves’ interests to steal and resell these goods.

As lockdown restrictions across the globe are lifted there is a concern that there will be a substantial rise in criminal activity as organised criminal gangs ‘come out of the woodwork’, and look to make up for lost ‘income’ during the lockdown period. Additionally, the reopening of sectors and the inevitable change in demand for certain goods, such as medical masks, will cause further disruption which criminals can capitalise on. The Coronavirus has seen many people become increasingly creative and flexible to keep their businesses afloat – this too will likely apply to criminals. Another side effect of the Coronavirus which unfortunately for logistics providers, is both global and unpredictable making future contingency plans near impossible.

Source: Transport Intelligence, June 09, 2020

Author: Beth Poole