A worldwide epidemic

A worldwide epidemic

Global companies need to plan globally and act locally, which is another way to say that while they develop strategies for corporate objectives, they must implement those strategies at a tactical level. For criminal enterprises, a global strategy may be to steal cargo, but the tactics for how it will be stolen is a local issue.

With no focus by international law enforcement on cargo crime, it is difficult to say how much cargo is stolen by international cartels, but domestic law enforcement agencies involved with the investigation of major cargo crime all report stolen cargo being moved across state and national borders. Whether or not the actual thieves are part of an international group, the marketing of stolen cargo is global and the movement of stolen cargo across jurisdictional lines is both market-driven and an attempt to keep local law enforcement from following the trail.

Statistics on cargo crime are fragmentary, but data collected by government agencies and private enterprise suggest trends that should be considered in logistics planning for movement of high-value cargo. Like any plan for a global company, cargo security standards should be globally consistent and locally specific.

Data indicate that the majority of cargo theft in Europe occurs mid-week, and armed hijacking of cargo from trucks is relatively common. State Department data show a similar pattern in Mexico, as do various corporate security analyses from Brazil and other Latin American countries. The majority of cargo crime in the U.S. and Canada, meanwhile, occurs on weekends, especially over holidays, and hijacking is rarely the method of choice.

It is generally accepted that hijacking cargo is rare in the U.S. because thieves know that using a weapon during a crime is more likely to engender serious police attention than the theft of a trailer from a truck stop or parking lot. Most law enforcement officers and professional investigators also believe that cargo is most often stolen on weekends because "cargo at rest is cargo at risk."

Because hijacking is more common than other kinds of cargo theft in Europe and parts of Latin America, thieves are apparently not concerned about brandishing weapons, suggesting that use of weapons will not result in added police attention. Further, because most cargo thefts occur mid-week, when cargo is moving, these thieves seem to believe that cargo on the road is easier to steal than cargo in cargo yards and parking lots. Neither argument appears valid at face value, but the proof is in the data, which indicate that security plans designed to protect cargo in transit should focus on avoiding risk when cargo is parked on weekends in the United States and Canada, and when it is moving mid-week in some other countries.

Why is cargo crime rampant in some countries, while nearly nonexistent in others? Cargo crime seems to be common in wealthy countries, rare in developing countries, and different from both in impoverished countries.

Case reports indicate that cargo theft in impoverished countries is sometimes a side effect of the theft of a truck. The truck itself is of value because it can be used to do business, but the cargo, no matter its cash value, may be of little use to the thieves, as there is limited local market for it and limited ability to get it to other markets. In these circumstances, high-value cargo such as pharmaceuticals or electronics may be dumped beside the road after a theft so that the truck can be used to haul local product.

Cargo theft in some developing countries, especially some of those along the Pacific Rim, is rare, and companies doing business there may be more concerned with product piracy and pilferage than with major cargo theft. State Department analysis of Pacific Rim countries shows they have proportionately small middle classes, which provide the primary sales outlet for stolen cargo. That is changing, however, and numerous reports now suggest that China alone will support a middle class of more than a half billion people by 2020. If the existence of strong middle class supports cargo crime, this development may suggest additional cargo crime risks in the future.

Although imprecise, worldwide information on cargo crime -- including where it seems to be prevalent and where it is not, and how it is carried out -- should be considered by global companies in their logistical planning. Up-to-date understanding of local conditions and trends is critical. High-value cargo moving in Los Angeles, London, Sao Paolo and Shanghai is as subject to different threats of cargo crime as much as it is affected by whether the roads are good or people drive on the left or the right.