MEXICO CITY — With the rate of cargo robberies rising by double digits, albeit at a slower clip than last year, Mexican cargo owners are teaming up with truckers and third-party logistics providers to better secure their supply chains while waiting to see how a new presidential administration will address the issue.
Seeing little improvement in freight theft, truckers — who move about 80 percent of the cargo in Mexico — are focusing more on their own efforts to mitigate the threat, which one trucker estimated adds as much as 5 percent to the cost of moving cargo. A key strategy is ensuring that the human elements of their freight-moving operation — drivers and staff manning round-the-clock cargo monitoring desks — are as strong a link in the supply chain as the arsenal of technology that has become the weapon of choice for combatting theft in recent years.
In an environment in which drivers are often involved in plans for stealing the cargo they are transporting, truckers say the strategy starts with picking the right person for the job. “An extremely important part of the evaluation of a driver is the evaluation of his integrity,” Marcelo Casilla, a security executive at Fabrica de Jabon La Corona, in Mexico, told a panel on security at the Logistics Summit & Expo in Mexico City last week.
The number of cargo robberies in Mexico increased 17 percent year over year to 17,270 in 2018, according to Sensitech, a Massachusetts company that tracks cargo theft worldwide. The 2018 increase was lower than the 49 percent increase in 2017, but the combined effect is a 76 percent increase in robberies since 2016, the figures show.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, often referred to as AMLO, who took office as president in December, says a new, 60,000-officer National Guard will be better trained and equipped to confront the widespread violence and corruption of drug and organized crime gangs than the army, which has played a major role in the fight since 2006.
Yet the new force, which gained the approval of Mexico’s congress in February but still needs the backing of states, is still some way from hitting the streets. Analysts question whether it is much different from the army, and whether it will be any more successful. And truckers and security experts, while eager to get help from AMLO’s new force, are still vigorously evolving their own efforts to prevent attacks through better hiring, training, and crime pattern analysis.
Company culture crucial
Truckers say the tracking, monitoring, and alarm technology that has emerged in recent years and is now commonly used to stop cargo theft on rail and trucks in Mexico won’t yield results unless drivers are well trained and committed to following the company’s crime-fighting strategy. Technology is just one of three legs of an effective effort, along with a prepared workforce and a 24/7 desk to track all cargo moves, truckers said at the summit.
In addition to hiring candidates with integrity, truckers should pick drivers with a profile that is “aligned with the philosophy and culture of the business, and especially show honesty,” said Casilla. For their part, trucking companies try to reinforce the drivers’ commitment — and give them reasons to resist the temptations of corruption — through high salaries, good benefits, and a security strategy that gives them strong protection from attacks.
Training is key, said Victor Salazar, CEO of trucking operator ALA Transportes. He estimated the combined cost of added security and preventative action to reduce the risk of an attack adds 3-5 percent to the cost of each cargo move.
“It’s a permanent security program,” he said. “We train our drivers so that they are constantly aware of the situations that create the risks in the country. In what route they rob most. At what time they rob mostly. And that has to include the planning of the routes. There are routes that we won’t go in the night. There are routes where we will only go with an additional guard.”
Salazar, whose company has 900 trucks, said that like most other larger trucking operations, ALA now has a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week monitoring desk solely to follow the progress of cargo. That is on top of another desk that enables shippers to follow their cargo. Trucks carry as many as three alarms that communicate with the monitoring desk in case of a problem to increase the chance that the alarm will be raised even if attackers are using signal “jammers,” he said.
Knowing the risks
Truckers note that prevention and avoidance of attacks are far more effective than trying to stop them once they are under way, so that is where they focus the vast majority of their efforts. These efforts include knowing crime patterns, which are the most dangerous routes, the typical modus operandi of organized crime, and what warning signs to look for, experts say.
Ninety-seven percent of cargo thefts take place while the cargo is in transit, and more than 60 percent of thefts take place in three states in the southern part of the country near the country’s capital, Mexico City, said Luis Enrique Villatoro Martinez, director of intelligence and security for Sensitech.
Twenty-six percent of the robberies take place in the state of Puebla, which sits on the main route from the port of Veracruz to Mexico City, Villatoro Martinez said, while 25 percent take place in the state of Mexico, which surrounds Mexico City on three sides, and 10 percent take place in the state of Michoacan, which sits between Mexico City and the Pacific Coast ports of Manzanillo and Lazaro Cardenas.
Forty-two percent of all cargo theft occurred on three highways, Villatoro Martinez said. Highway 150 between Mexico City and Veracruz had 22 percent of the robberies, the Mexican Exterior Circuit highway around Mexico City 12 percent, and an 800-mile stretch of Highway 57, from south of Mexico City to Saltillo — near the Laredo border crossing into the US — accounted for 11 percent of the cargo robberies, he said.
Food and drink are the most commonly stolen goods, accounting for 37 percent of all cargo theft, according to Sensitech, followed by building and industrial goods at 9 percent and alcohol at 8 percent, the company said.