Organized crime targets commercial trucks carrying alcohol in the Americas
By Dialogo October 22, 2013
Security forces throughout the Americas are fighting widespread hijackings by organized crime operatives of cargo from commercial trucks and trains. The cargo thefts are inflicting billions of dollars in losses annually to truck and train operators, manufacturers of goods which are stolen, retail stores and restaurants, and consumers. Such losses not only harm individuals and businesses, they do damage to the economies of entire countries, according to security analysts.
Two of the three countries which experienced the highest rates of cargo theft in the world in 2012 and the first half of 2013 – Brazil and Mexico – are in the Americas, according to a report by the FreightWatch International, a global security company.
The company works with many commercial truck companies and train operators. Brazil experienced the highest level of cargo theft, followed by South Africa and Mexico, according to the report by FreightWatch.
From food to electronics
Commercial trucks and trains transport many kinds of goods throughout the Americas. Organized crime operatives most commonly targeted trucks and trains which delivered food items, including alcoholic beverages, according to the FreightWatch report. Thieves also stole building materials, such as shipments of steel and lumber, shipments of cigarettes, and electronic goods, including cellphones, computers, and televisions.
Organized crime groups focus on these items because they can sell them quickly for an easy profit, said Ron Greene, vice president of global operations for FreightWatch. The company often works with police and military authorities to provide security for commercial truckers and train operators.
Brazil experiences up to 10,000 cargo thefts annually, Greene said. We have some reports that say there are up to 10,000 cargo thefts a year in Brazil,” said Ron Greene vice president of global operations for Freight Watch International. He noted that Brazil and Argentina have the highest numbers of thefts in the southern hemisphere.
Thefts of mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices cost the Brazilian economy about $49 million annually, according to published reports. Overall, thefts of all kinds of cargo costs the Brazilian economy $442 million each year. The problem is so acute that some insurance companies refuse to insure certain products, such as electronics and cigarettes, which are commonly stolen by thieves in Brazil, according to published reports.
About 25 percent of all hijackings in Brazil occur on two sections of Highway BR-116, the President Dutra section between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero, and the Regis Bittencourt area between Sao Paulo and Curitiba. The fact this highway is near major cities, where stolen goods could be quickly sold and distributed, make them attractive to thieves, authorities said.
Cargo thieves in Brazil most commonly steal food products, beverages, electronic items, cigarettes, and pharmaceuticals, according to the National Association of Cargo Transport and Logistics.
In recent weeks, the Federation of Freight Transportation signed an agreement with Brazil’s Civil Police to develop strategies to fight cargo theft throughout the country.
The agreement is a positive development, Green said.
“We are watching very closely, we are advocates for change and we are hopeful that we will, together with law enforcement, the military and the private sector, mitigate this risk,” Green said. “It takes a combined effort to fight against cargo theft. We are very optimistic we will better this.”
Improved safety in Argentina
In Argentina, the number of incidents of cargo theft declined from 1,707 in 2011 to 1,211 in 2012, a decrease of 29 percent. More than 50 percent of these crimes occur in the Buenos Aires region, authorities said.
Greater vigilance by police on highways where cargo theft is prevalent helped bring the number of cargo thefts down, officials said.
In August 2013, authorities created a government bureau to fight cargo theft. The bureau is comprised by the Ministry of Security and Justice, the Attorney General for the city of Buenos Aires, the Ministry of Health and Office Safety, the National Directorate of Migration, and the Agency Revue of the Province of Buenos Aires.
Security forces in Guatemala are also battling high levels of cargo theft.
Guatemala’s Public Ministry estimated that cargo thieves committed an average of 18 robberies of commercial trucks per week in 2010, according to a study called “Supply Chain Security in Latin America.” The report was published in March 2013 by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL). Guatemalan police reported higher levels of truck hijackings – an average of 200 a month in 2010.
Most of the hijackings occurred on the Inter-American Highway (CA-1), the Atlantic Highway (CA-9) and the Pacific Highway (CA-2). Hijackers struck most often in the departments of Escuintla, Santa Rosa, Retalhuleu and Suchitepequez.
Colombia has made great strides in improving the security of cargo deliveries.
In 2000, authorities recorded 3,260 incidents of cargo theft, according to the Ministry of National Defense. There were only 214 cargo thefts from January through August 2013, according to the ministry.
Colombia has been fighting cargo theft for over a decade. According to statistics released by the Ministry of National Defense in Colombia, there were 3,260 cargo thefts in 2000 and only 214 from January to August 2013.
Many of the thefts were committed members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), two rebel organizations which are involved in cargo theft and other criminal activities.
To fight cargo thieves, Colombian authorities in 2001 formed a partnership between the National Police and business leaders. Business people work collaboratively to fight cargo theft, often by sharing information. The initiative is called the Enterprise Security Front.
“This program has proven to have excellent capacity for resilience to overcome that huge amount of criminal actions that have affected not only the Colombian supply chain but also the citizenry,” said Orlando Hernández, a private consultant in risk management in Bogota.
Overall, security in Colombia has improved greatly in recent years. In recent months, President Santos Calderon announced plans to hire 1,000 new officers for the Cali Metropolitan Police Department.
In Mexico, cargo theft from commercial trucks and trains by Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel (CDG), La Familia Michoacana and other transnational criminal organizations is decreasing, thanks to a security initiative by the Federal Police (PF) and state and local law enforcement agencies.
From Jan. 1 through June 30, 2012, freight companies recorded 963 thefts from cargo trucks and trains throughout the country, according to FreightWatch. During the same time period in 2013, freight companies reported 598 incidents of cargo theft, a decrease of nearly 30 percent.
Authorities credit a security initiative launched by the National Safety Commission (CNS). Officials identified regions in each of the 31 states and the Federal District where cargo thefts were prevalent, and deployed more than 2,600 elements of the (PF), local and state police, and the Marines to those areas to improve security.
Cargo theft tactics
Cargo thieves use a variety of tactics, from force to trickery, to commit their crimes.
In Peru, for example, more than 50 percent of all cargo thefts result in serious injury or death to the targeted truck driver or train operator. Armed robbers in trucks sometimes force commercial trucks off the road and take the cargo at gunpoint, sometimes beating or shooting the driver. Or, armed robbers will board trains at stopping points and take cargo by force.
Some cargo thieves use trickery, dressing in police or military uniforms and setting up fake checkpoints. The criminals steal the cargo when drivers stop for what they believed was a checkpoint.
Some organized crime groups obtain inside information, such as the routes drivers use, from employees of trucking companies to plan attacks. “
Criminal organizations have insiders informing them the details of the truck and its cargo and they just wait for the right time to rob them,” Greene said.
Cargo theft is an international problem that affects companies and consumers, and negatively affects the global economy, Greene said.
Cargo theft affects everybody,” according to Greene. “This costs a lot of money, it translates into higher security and insurance costs for companies and higher prices for consumer products.