Tracking down thieves
Freight theft is on the increase. The Transported Asset Protection Association and its new Emea CEO Thorsten Neumann want to sensitise the authorities and companies concerned to the issue. It is also working for improvements to the data situation.
The figures are worrying. In the first half of 2019, the cost of cargo theft in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (the Emea region) amounted to EUR 305,000 a day! According to the organisation Transported Asset Protection Association (Tapa) this represents a new record. The number of offences rose by 5.1% year-on-year, to a total of 4,200 offences. What is even more alarming is that this continues a development that has already been observed for four years now.
Tapa, which is the only global organisation fighting cargo theft, is not happy with these rising crime figures, naturally enough. From Tapa Emea CEO Thorsten Neumann’s perspective, however, the current developments are not only negative. The German national has been Tapa Emea’s first full-time CEO since June; he sees the growing number of registered cargo thefts as clearly underlining the necessity of Tapa’s work.
Success in Germany
“In many countries or regions there are no separate statistics at all showing incidents of cargo theft. The registered cases are therefore only the tip of an iceberg, whilst the rest of the crimes remain hidden. If the numbers are increasing then this is also because a little more of the iceberg can actually be seen now.” There is no pan-European database that records all cargo thefts, nor are there any national databases in many countries.
But it becomes difficult to draw conclusions when a robbed truck is statistically lumped together with a picked pocket. Whilst Germany has provided reliable data for some time now, France only recently returned to providing the figures, after an interruption. “We’re extremely pleased about this, because France is an important transit country,” Neumann told the ITJ. “Many authorities don’t want to admit the problem and therefore simply do not categorise cargo thefts. Data alone is not much use, however; it merely proves that a theft has taken place.”
Tapa therefore also focuses on prevention, and tries to sensitise its members on the details involved. “First and foremost, it’s important that we create awareness,” Neumann emphasises. Both the driver and the transport company are at the heart of Tapa’s efforts. Even small changes can improve safety.
For example, it helps if a truck arrives at its loading point with a full tank and thus does not have to head for a petrol station first with the freight on board. Neumann is aware that theft prevention has its limitations, however, as goods are increasingly valuable these days. “Risks can be minimised, of course, but some losses simply have to be accepted. Most preventive measures cost time and money and it may not be worth the investment, depending on the goods involved.”
In addition to working with firms Tapa also seeks an exchange with European Union authorities, to raise general awareness of the issues involved. “The data situation is rather weak all round, but especially so in Eastern Europe. We expect the EU to be in a position to provide better statistics in the medium term,” Neumann hopes. If politicians and police forces really address cargo theft, then some progress can be achieved.
This is shown by an example set by the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt. In 2018 it set up a cargo protection group, which was joined by police forces from some of the country’s other federal states, as well as from Poland. After just under a year a clear reduction in cargo theft was recorded in the regions the group focuses on. According to Tapa, however, it cannot be ruled out that the criminals have simply moved to other regions.
Parmesan worth EUR 1.2 million
It is usually invisible to the naked eye what goods the thousands of trucks on Europe’s roads transport. For the thieves, however, the lorries’ contents are highly relevant, of course. According to Tapa, tobacco products, food, beverages, electronic goods, clothing and cosmetics are the most popular items for the thieves.
The fact that food is so coveted by thieves may come as something of a surprise, as a truckload of bananas, for example, is rather difficult to store. But for Tapa Emea CEO Neumann the value of stolen food is clear. “Food is always needed and can be sold to restaurateurs as well as wholesalers happy to buy stolen goods at lower prices through legal online platforms. On top of this it is rather difficult to track down food.”
A truck full of Parmesan is worth approximately EUR 1.2 million, Neumann adds. It can make a considerable profit, even if the cheese is sold at a discount. Despite all the aggravation of cargo theft, at least it is relatively certain that almost no people are injured in the process – at least in Europe.
Hijackings in South Africa
As mentioned above, Tapa Emea also runs activities in the Middle East and Africa. The focus in the latter is on South Africa. “The situation there is much more serious than in Europe. Attacks using armed force are not uncommon at all.”
This dangerous state of affairs is also illustrated by statistics the transport insurer TT Club has revealed. In Europe, half of all thefts take place through a slit tarpaulin, frequently slit in a service area, for example. In the Middle East and in Africa, however, hijacked vehicles account for 43% of incidents.
Many gangs have specialised in such activities in South Africa. Kidnappings are even more common in South America, however, as well as to a lesser extent in North America too.
Despite the difficult overall situation, Neumann feels comfortable in his role. “I’m independent now and can fully devote all my energy to Tapa.” He wants to attract more companies as Tapa members for the time being, and launch a campaign with images on truck tarpaulins. For cargo thieves the peak season is just beginning – the Christmas business period is starting. “We’ll certainly feel this in the coming weeks and months,” Neumann closes.