For years, supply chain security managers have been following the rise of cargo theft incidents at truck stops, parking lots and warehouses. For the year 2018, the Transport Asset Protection Association (TAPA), which tracks cargo theft incidents, has reported a monthly average of 175 cargo theft incidents occurring in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, with more than 250 incidents occurring during peak months. The top five countries most targeted for cargo thefts include the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, where goods ranging from clothing and electronic consumer goods to pharmaceuticals and auto parts are regularly stolen. In Europe, the most common modus operandi reported over the past years has been the cutting of truck tarpaulins at service areas along highways when drivers are usually asleep.
Since late 2017, a new modus operandi has increasingly been reported during thefts of cargo, where criminals use sleeping gas to put truck drivers to sleep in their cabins before stealing manufactured goods and, oftentimes, personal belongings. Although such incidents were first recorded back in 2013, they have not occurred as frequently and at so many different geographical areas as this year. The new method is a direct response to increasing security awareness among truck drivers, who now tend to confront criminals during thefts. By using sleeping gas, criminals gain more time to inspect cargo loads, and to decide whether the goods are worth unloading. While it is difficult to prove the use of sleeping gas, police reports in 2018 have shown an uptick in complaints of nausea and headaches among truck drivers, both typical symptoms of such attacks, in the aftermath of theft attempts.
The map below displays a selection of theft incidents involving sleeping gas which have occurred since late 2017 across Europe including in the United Kingdom, Germany and France. In the UK, the West Midlands area has seen the highest number of such gas attacks. In Germany, areas in Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Pomerania and around Berlin have been targeted the most. In March of this year, criminals reportedly robbed a truck driver on the A19 highway near Guestrow in Germany. Similarly, a truck driver was gassed in his cabin in late March 2018 while parking overnight in an industrial estate in Walsall in the United Kingdom before thieves stole GBP 70,000 worth of industrial machinery. Almost all of the reported incidents have occurred at service areas along highways. In southern France service areas between Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier have been targeted in April 2018. Most of the incidents occurred during the darker months of the year, likely because it provides criminals a higher level of protection from witnesses at service areas and parking lots.
To minimize risks associated with cargo thefts, customers are advised to analyze historical incidents and use heat maps to identify high-risk areas which should be avoided by drivers. Monitoring new developments can help determine if and where to establish alternative routes with more secure parking stops for the transport of shipments. In addition, the new trend involving sleeping gas requires adequate investment in gas detectors in truck cabins as well as more secure cabin locks. As drivers are often not well-trained in security incidents, drawing up emergency plans and a code of conduct can reduce reaction time and prevent higher financial losses. Finally, as most theft incidents occur during the night, it is recommended to carefully set up transportation schedules and distances to avoid drivers stopping at insecure parking lots overnight.