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A leading freight crime intelligence service is warning that organised crime gangs targeting freight loads in Europe are likely to employ ever more sophisticated and violent tactics.
Freightwatch International Supply Chain Intelligence Centre also said overall levels of crime were set to increase this year.
The organisation has released a report noting the top ten freight crime hotspots of Europe, which concluded that seven of them would see sharply increased levels of theft and hijackings.
The use of violence is commonplace in some regions – hijacking is on the rise in France, Italy and Russia – while in other regions, less confrontational theft from parked trailers and warehouse is dominant. The UK was identified as being particularly vulnerable to cybercrime, with the huge growth of e-commerce and lax digital security widespread.
Paris and its environs witnessed the highest growth of crime last year. French police estimate that 2,300 freight crimes took place in the country in 2014, representing a 40% increase on 2013, and they expect even more this year, especially with the heightened threat of Islamic terrorism in the country since the Charlie Hebdo attack depleted resources the police are able to allocate to the sector.
Crimes in Paris are three times more likely to involve violence than those in other parts of France, with truck hijackings, mostly within just a few kilometres of the origin or destination DC, becoming increasingly common. A French police source told FreightWatch International how hijackings typically unfold.
“Once the truck or van has been forced to stop, the drivers are pulled out of the vehicle and very often taken hostage or even physically assaulted. The hijacked truck or van is then driven by the perpetrators to a nearby hidden place where another truck or van is waiting, onto which the products are immediately unloaded.
“This happens extremely quickly, which means that the thieves usually don’t drive long distances with the hijacked vehicle in order to make it very hard —if not impossible—for truck tracking companies to locate the incident or for local enforcement agencies to intervene.
“The empty truck is then set on fire by the criminals who try to make sure they don’t leave any traces. Very often, they also discharge dry-chemical fire extinguishers inside the vehicle. The hijacked drivers are usually released shortly afterwards in remote locations dozens of kilometres away.”
Violent hijackings are also a common feature in southern Italy where, FreightWatch says, “maximum threat levels apply to all supply chains”, describing the risk of falling victim to criminal gangs attacking trucks and vans in transit in the wider Naples/Salerno and Bari areas as “severe”, which are dominated by mafia organisations.
“Organised criminal networks linked to local mafia organisations in Apulia (Sacra Corona Unita), Campania (Camorra), Lombardy (Ndrangheta) and other regions have definitely entered the ‘business’ of cargo crime,” sources have told FreightWatch. “The mafia has become active in freight theft to diversify its criminal activities and increase revenue, but probably also as a reaction to increased repression and enforcement agency pressure in more traditional crime sectors such a drug trafficking, extortion or prostitution,” it said.
The mafia had also spread to the Lombardy region, targeting cargo flows in Italy’s northern industrial belt to the point where cargo crime in the country is almost entirely the preserve of organised crime, added FreightWatch. It is “utterly ruthless and equipped with sophisticated jamming equipment that stops GPS signals coming from the truck or attached to the cargo” – in Apulia, 100% of high-value thefts involved jammers.
Indeed, organised crime – be it Italian or Russian or Albanian mafia – is entrenched in the freight business across Europe. If it is not directly involved in an initial theft, it provides the networks for the goods to be transported elsewhere to be resold.
“An increasing number of cargo theft gangs have international connections, are part of larger, well-organised and well-equipped international criminal organisations operating in many countries and relying on Europe-wide networks to resell stolen goods on black markets,” FWI said.
The top 10 hotspots are: