Southern Africa cargo hijacking needs to be tackled, says risk expert

Cargo operations at South Africa's Durban port. Credit: Getty Images
Cargo operations at South Africa's Durban port. Credit: Getty Images

Cargo insurers have been told the epidemic of cargo crime in Southern Africa requires a concerted solution between underwriters and clients.

Speaking at the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) annual conference in Cape Town, Captain Andrew Walker, the regional marine loss control manager for Africa and Middle East for insurance giant AIG, said cargo hijacking had to be addressed.

“South Africa is diverse and beautiful, but it does have its challenges. In terms of hijacking of cargo, we are up there with Mexico and Brazil. It takes up much of my time around effective risk management.”

Electronics, food beverage, and clothes are the major targets, with Walker adding, “It is anything they can get rid of quickly.”

Hijackings are being driven by social and economic conditions with South Africa’s unemployment rate between 22% and 27% and, as such, the attraction of crime is on the increase.

“The gangs are becoming more sophisticated, with infiltration of firms for information or the hacking of systems.”

The hijackings come with a significant level of violence with gangs attacking shipments with the use of automatic weapons and a number of deaths during the hijacking.

“At present we are averaging four hijackings a day and that total adds up,” said Walker. “We have had incidents where they will dress as the police or the army and construct road blocks to halt shipments.”

Gangs are also accessing the transport firm’s systems to discover the site and contents of shipments and then access the ports and terminals to pick up the goods before the genuine company arrives.

“We are working on anti-hijacking measures as the sophistication grows,” he explained. “There are a wide range of measures we can implement to make the cargos more difficult to steal, but it comes at a cost.

“However, when you consider the cost of a successful hijacking and loss of goods, it makes that cost worthwhile.”

Access all of our IUMI 2018 content via our topic page