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Stop Thief (April 01, 2002)

The cargo crooks are out and the pickings are good - and getting increasingly better. Canadian carriers have losses and claims that exceed $1 billion annually, according to the Ontario Trucking Associ...


The cargo crooks are out and the pickings are good – and getting increasingly better. Canadian carriers have losses and claims that exceed $1 billion annually, according to the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA). And the U.S. market, the most lucrative growth opportunity for Canadian carriers, also happens to be a prime hunting ground for cargo thieves. Cargo theft is said to be a $12-billion-a -year criminal industry in the U.S. and growing at a frightening $2 billion a year.

“The FBI in California have deemed that organized crime cargo theft is their second greatest priority next to international terrorism. They’ve put it ahead of the drug industry,” says John Biggerstaff, a Detective with the Property Crime Task Force in the Toronto Police Service’s Organised Crime Enforcement Unit.

Here the police like to illustrate the problem by citing the number of full-trailer thefts: In British Columbia, says Daryl Dunn, a Private Investigator with Ridge Investigative Services in Surrey, “Right now it’s four to five trucks and trailers a week. That is a lot.” In the Peel region area near Toronto, says Biggerstaff, “It has been progressive from about 280 in 1999, 300 in 2000 and 340 in 2001.” On the Island of Montreal full-trailer thefts jumped from 100 in 1999 to 220 last year, including seven hijackings over the last 20 months.

What can you do to prevent your customers’ cargo from becoming easy pickings? First is understanding that thieves will steal just about anything, as Sergeant Detectives Daniel Picard and Norman Vaskelis, the sole officers responsible for truck cargo theft in the City of Montreal Police Services Organised Crime Division, were quick to tell a special seminar on the truck theft organized by the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association recently. A raid last December 13, for example, netted peanuts, flour, ham, cereal, cheese, peas, pizza, cakes, fish – the haul from five separate thefts. Alcohol and cigarettes are the best gigs though; a load of smokes can be worth as much as $1.2 million.

In British Columbia, says Dunn, “There are a lot of lumber thefts. They will suss out a load and steal it on the weekend or in the night hours. Some people target electronics. In February one company lost a load of meat, the third one in a short period of time. There is someone specifically targeting that.”

Thieves also troll the highways for unattended trailers. “There is no doubt in my mind that there are people driving around in tractors just looking for trailers,” says Dave Deshane, the National Equipment Manager for HBC Logistics in Mississauga, Ont. “Some thefts that I have heard about were obviously random hits. People have to be aware that even if they aren’t hauling anything valuable, they can be hit.”

But you can fight back. Security systems to prevent and trace thefts range from tamper-evident security sealing devices and siren alarms to mobile tracking and armed vehicles riding shotgun behind rigs hauling loads of cigarettes. For example, Canada Mayer, a Canadian manufacturer of tamper evident security sealing devices in Laval, Que., since the 1950s, has evolved an extensive product line of plastic, metal and heavy-duty cable lock barrier seals to serve the varying security needs of all transportation modes. The ISO9001-registered company has products ranging from plastic “dual lock” seals for trailers, containers and bins that are ultrasonically sealed and come with alphabetically prefixed or consecutive seven digit numbers for tracking to “robo-lock” plastic seals designed for hopper and tanker cars and made of a high strength polyethylene material and an ultrasonically welded lock that must be cut to be removed; from “ball type” locking devices designed for trailers and intermodal containers and made up of interlocking double piano wire rings with up to eight-digit identification to cable seal locks that can’t be removed unless the braided aircraft cable is cut.

The plastic seals, says President and CEO Victor R. Tritton, “give the assurance that if the seal is still on, with the same manifest number, they won’t have to look and see what is missing.

“You know right away if something has been taken. You can do a trace to see where the theft took place. You have a constant monitoring of the goods. If a truck stops two or three times on the way to Toronto, and the seal is OK, the load is OK,” explains Tritton.

Heavier cable seals are used to secure the doors on more valuable loads. “The time it would take them to defeat a bolt seal or cable seal is more than many would want to take,” explains Don Geddy, the General Manager, Canada for E.J. Brooks Industries Ltd., in Livingston, NJ, which manufactures several levels of security seals, from indicator seals to semi-barrier products.

“In my experience,” says Geddy, “whole trailer theft is a small part of the thefts. My clients are trying to protect trailers in a yard from break-ins where someone wants to steal a few computers or some TVs, or protection against contamination, as opposed to full-trailer theft.”

Manufacturers of security products can advise carriers and shippers on what level of protection they should use. For example, the longer trailers or containers have to be left unattended, the more secure they should be against entry. “Most of [the theft] we hear about is in intermodal containers in cargo rail yards, shipping areas where they stay a little longer,” says Eric Hamilton, the Product Development Manager with Tyden Brammall, headquartered in Angola, Ind. “One of the best systems we have found is to use a bolt seal in the hasp of the right-hand door, and to further provide barrier protection use a heavy cable seal on the top of the keeper bars. Now [the thief needs] bolt cutters, cable cutters and a ladder.”

Victor Gauthier, President and CEO of Secured Cargo Ltd., says the best theft deterrent is noise. His Calgary-based company distributes the Maxxal International line of anti-theft products, which basically operate like home security systems, blasting a 116-decibel alarm if the trailer is broken into. Each Maxxal system includes its own battery, pager for the driver, siren and strobe light.

“Our alarm covers probably 85 percent of the types of theft that go on out there,” Gauthier claims. “If an anauthorized [i.e., the driver has not been given the alarm access code] tractor hooks up to the trailer, the alarm will be set off. You can’t steal the trailer without setting off the alarm.”

No matter what security devices are used, the paradox about cargo theft is that while it is on the rise, tighter margins are leading some companies to reduce security. “The trend, because of the downturn in the economy and higher fuel prices, is to go to a cheaper security system. One customer decided to gamble and not use seals at all,” says Hamilton. “Typically, the ones who are going in the direction of more security are corporate-level security guys, but very few are proactive. They are reactive to extreme security issues.”

“Companies must be every bit, if not more, security conscious now,” advises Canada Mayer’s Tritton.

Shippers and carriers are reluctant to talk publicly about their security measures, but publicizing some measures can deter would-be thieves. HBC’s Deshane is quite comfortable saying that HBC Logistics has cameras, fenced yards and 24/7 security at all cargo facilities. “The message we want to get across is that we are doing all we can. Go somewhere else! We used to hide cameras … do everything we could to catch people, more apprehension after the fact. Now we have a more proactive approach geared toward preventing cargo theft; for example, we have our cameras right out in the open, so people can see our security measures. The same approach applies outside of the yard as inside.”

Insurance companies take a dim view of companies with poor security. “Their day is coming, particularly as insurance is becoming more highly underwritten,” says John Slade, a Senior Vice President with Marsh Canada. “Some clients don’t even have basic preventative measures in place, such as how to guard their yard
or vehicles. Some can’t even track their vehicles,” comments Greg St. Croix, a Marsh Canada Transportation Consultant.

Companies with lackadaisical attitudes toward load security may someday find themselves uninsurable. As Gauthier attests, the people he most frequently hears from are ones recently hit by bandits.

“One company that came to us had been robbed three times in the past 12 months. They were going to lose their insurance and had to do something about security,” he explains.

There is a pay off to taking a more proactive approach. Insurance companies will offer discounts to companies providing good security. “Companies with tracking [devices], motion detectors … they get special ratings. There are credits that are available,” says Slade. Carriers can also ask their insurance companies for advice: “We have clients where insurance companies come in and make recommendations on security, the carriers price equipment and the insurers verify the installations,” says Slade. “We have our own risk consultants who know [everything from] fleet management and fleet safety to labor management. Carriers are asking for more and more advice on how to reduce their total cost and risk.”

Marsh Canada teamed with Cancom Tracking Solutions in 1999 to develop Theft Watch, which transmits a description of any stolen vehicle to 6000 Cancom-equipped rigs in North America registered with the program. Last year, Theft Watch reported 140 thefts. “We had one perfect scenario where a trailer was stolen in Larado, Texas. It was reported through the system and was identified by one of the drivers some 400 miles away,” says Slade.

That thief was caught, yet with more than 25,000 Cancom-equipped rigs in Canada and about 400,000 more in the U.S., Theft Watch is remarkably under-subscribed, considering that it is free. “It is really up to the industry to take advantage of the service. It doesn’t cost anything. It is wide open to any company on the system. All they have to do is ask me,” says St. Croix.

There are other services and sources of good security information: The BCTA is planning to offer a seminar on truck theft this year. The OTA is a corporate sponsor of Crime Stoppers and participates in the American Trucking Associations’ TIPS database. The OTA also developed a manual called “Best Practices to Prevent Theft”, which covers topics such as corporate policies for cargo theft, how to improve yard security, preventative action on the road and how to protect information about freight.

Carriers can also help their cause by asking their drivers to keep a lid on what’s being transported. Say a driver boasts in a bar about what he is hauling. Someone could be dropping in on the conversation.Once thieves learn that a rig has what they want, it becomes a target.

Trailers should also not be left alone and unsecured outside of guarded yards. “You pass a truck stop and you can see a lot of trailers there. Our drivers are not allowed to unhook their trailers en route. We do a lot of trailer switches [en route] but our drivers are not allowed to drop their trailers before the other drivers show up,” says Deshane, whose company runs its own private fleet of trucks.

Carriers are also victims of too-lenient penalties for cargo theft. Why risk a long prison term for importing drugs if the sentence for stealing $100,000 worth of cargo might net a few months in jail, asks Biggerstaff. He agrees that police and everyone in the industry should insist loudly on stiffer penalties and more resources to crack the organised crime gangs behind cargo theft. “I think they [the trucking industry] have the leverage, we just need to get over the hurdle to get the attention we need.


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