Whether travelling via truck across county lines from one warehouse to another or from country to country through ports and border checkpoints, cargo is highly vulnerable.

Cargo theft is a multi-billion problem across the world. Yet, there are also far more sinister threats lurking amongst global supply chains. For companies operating within freight shipping, trafficking of people and contraband such as drugs and weapons is a massive concern.

Theft can have profound financial implications for an organisation — whilst containers are likely to get rejected by customs if they have been tampered with. Being linked to any form of trafficking could also have potentially devastating consequences for a firm’s reputation, even if they were unaware of the illicit activities.

Incidents of human trafficking

Recent years have seen many examples of failed security measures and the illegal activities that flourish and grow as a result.

In October 2019, 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in a lorry in Essex. The vehicle had travelled from Dunkirk in France to the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium before being ferried across to Purfleet. The boss of the lorry firm involved had booked the trailer onto the ship under a false cargo and has since pleaded guilty to manslaughter and conspiracy to assist in unlawful immigration.

However, this is far from an isolated incident. September 2020 saw Austrian police discover 38 Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish migrants in a Romanian lorry, 30 kilometres from the border with Hungary. The migrants had used clandestine routes to get to Romania, where smugglers had placed them in a safe house near the border with Hungary and transported them to Austria via truck. The horrific conditions in the vehicle were reminiscent of those endured by 71 migrants found dead on the same highway in another refrigerated lorry in August 2015.

A rise in contraband smuggling

Drug trafficking across Europe, the US and Africa is also a significant problem for freight companies. Earlier in September, Interpol cracked global drug-smuggling ring ‘Kompania Bello’, which is considered one of the most active cocaine trafficking networks in Europe. Unlike previous international cocaine importers, the group controlled the entire traffic chain — from organising large shipments directly from South America to distributing across Europe.

The US has also seen a spike in drug trafficking at ports of entry along the Canadian border, with a 1,000 per cent increase in drugs seized since the start of the coronavirus pandemic — including nearly 40,000 pounds of marijuana valued between $100 million and $120 million. The surge is primarily due to the legalisation of marijuana in Canada.

Similarly, cigarette smuggling has boomed in South Africa, which banned legal sales as part of anti-COVID measures. Many of the illegal cigarettes sold in South Africa are smuggled in from Zimbabwe — mainly through the Beitbridge border post, which lies 500km north of Johannesburg. Tobacco sales are now permitted again; however, the growth of the illegal market during the prohibition period could have a lasting impact and reduce legal sales.

Elsewhere in Africa, intensifying community conflicts, armed gangs and volatile environments also create a lucrative market for smuggling contraband. For example, despite a state security presence, the corridor from northern Chad to Libya sees a range of organised crime and illicit activities — including smuggling involving arms, drugs such as tramadol, stolen vehicles and humans.

Strengthening supply chain vulnerabilities

Companies have a responsibility to secure their cargo, but due to the complexities of the supply chain, this can be a relentless challenge. Many of the factors which affect supply chains and cargo security — war, natural disasters, disease or civil unrest — can leave freight forwarders powerless. Organised crime groups, on the other hand, thrive amidst these unstable situations.

However, monetary losses from theft and the dangers posed by criminals sneaking contraband into containers in transit mean it is critical to strengthen supply chain vulnerabilities. To secure cargo, supply chain professionals must employ a multi-faceted approach, customised to each situation and continually evaluate areas for improvement.

The approach should be seamless and cause minimal disruption, unlike the operation launched in Kent the other week, which saw 10-hour delays at the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel as every vehicle was checked.

Combined with appropriate training, surveillance and information sharing, x-ray vehicle screening technology — such as the relocatable 2X-300 scanner — can guarantee a rapid response and thwart illegal activities. In the high throughput drive-through mode, the 2X-300 can screen in excess of 250 vehicles per hour whilst the conveyor mode can scan up to 55 vehicles per hour, ensuring an efficient search process.

For more information on how to secure cargo at ports and border checkpoints, contact 2X Systems today.