Cargo theft report suggests risk lies ashore rather than at sea

Cargo handling. Credit: IAPH Shanghai

When assessing risk of cargo theft, moving goods by sea appears to be a relatively less risky mode of transport compared with other modes, according to a recent report.

Maritime cargo continues to face risk of larger-level criminality at sea, such as piracy and armed robbery. However, in terms of lower risk such as theft from cargo in transit, the report – the BSI Supply Chain Services and Solutions and TT Club annual cargo theft assessment for 2018 – indicates that theft from road-based transport and from shore-based fixed facilities presents the largest risk to freight cargo security.

In assessing cargo theft risk to help prevent freight crime, the reported highlighted the global trends in types of cargo theft risk, modalities of transport and nature of commodities targeted, and theft tactics employed.

According to the report’s data, in terms of the top two modalities of theft, 84% occurred from vehicles, with 13% occurring from fixed facilities, and 1% occurred from rail transport. The total figure for all other modes – including shipping at sea – was 2%.

BSI confirmed to SAS that the 2% figure for ‘other’ modalities included maritime cargo security statistics. However, BSI global intelligence manager Jim Yarbrough told SAS, “We do not typically see many incidents of theft involving maritime cargo in transit.”

Elaborating on potential explanations for this, Yarbrough added, “There are much fewer vulnerability points on transport once it is at sea. The real risk is at the point of loading or off-loading, where we do see greater numbers of thefts and attempts.”

Certainly, with the report noting that goods remain vulnerable ashore in a range of circumstances – for example on road and rail transport, and at fixed facilities – risk remains for maritime cargo when it is transported by land.

Ashore, the report noted that the primary risk is ‘slash-and-grab’ theft from soft-skinned vehicles (26%), with thefts from vehicles and hijacking of vehicles being the next two risks (19% and 17% respectively). Risk to maritime cargo in port remains, with theft from facilities featuring as the fourth risk (13%).

An obvious conclusion is that the very nature of moving goods by sea – containerised cargo, embarked onboard large vessels, which move constantly at speed, and in isolation over large distances and at significant distance from shore – builds an inherent layer of security. Nonetheless, risk remains for maritime cargo once goods are ashore, for example in fixed facilities such as ports.

In terms of theft from facilities, Asia was noted in the report as the region of largest risk, with 43% of cargo thefts across the region occurring at fixed facilities. In the Middle East/Africa region, facility theft accounted for 23% of thefts. Figures for North America, South America, and Europe were 9%, 8%, and 4% respectively.

The report also highlighted the risk of insider assistance for criminals. “As organisations implement increasingly sophisticated physical, procedural, and cyber security measures to protect their assets from external threats, the recruitment of insiders becomes a more attractive option for those attempting to gain access,” the report stated. Risks here included unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information and facilitation of third party access to an organisation’s assets, it noted.

As regards information disclosure, the report also noted the risk of inadvertent disclosure by individuals through social media use. For example, it noted that an individual posting on social media the arrival of a container carrying high-value cargo or popular video game materials “has the potential to raise awareness among the perpetrators of theft”. Highlighting a growing focus across the transport industry on security risks created by social media use, the report recommended that – among critical considerations within the development and implementation of policies, management control procedures, and awareness training to improve cargo security – companies should “Employ a sound communication policy, both internal and external, [relating to] the use of mobile devices and social media.”