Cargo theft: Mitigating risk requires game plan
Look up how many air cargo thefts happen per year worldwide.
You won’t find the answer.
You will find news stories such as the 3,600 iPad minis that were taken from JFK International Airport in November 2012, or the cargo that was stolen and thrown over the perimeter wall at an Indian airport in April 2012.
Cargo security professionals interviewed say air cargo is the most secure mode of transportation, in terms of theft, because of the difficulty of stealing cargo midair.
But airfreight isn’t always in the air.
Trucks often take cargo to the airport. That cargo may sit around before or after a flight, sometimes unattended.
That’s where air cargo is most vulnerable to theft.
“Our industry, transporting high value goods as we do, is a potential target,” Oliver Evans, chairman of The International Air Cargo Association, says.
‘A system that actually works’
Cargo travels through many hands: airlines, ground handlers, trucking companies.
That’s why it must have a chain of custody, Walt Beadling, managing partner at logistics security company Cargo Security Alliance, says.
“What that means is at any point in time, you know who has a particular piece of cargo, whatever it may,” Beadling says. “You may not know where it is, but you know who has responsibility for it. And at each point where the cargo’s transferred, there’s a handoff, a formal handoff, where custody is transferred from one entity to another.”
Erik Hoffer, vice president of CSA, says someone must design a logistical plan in order to create that chain of custody and have as few handoffs as possible.
“There’s always going to be that one point where nobody’s watching the store,” he says. “Without having the ability to have a chain of custody throughout the different modalities, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re just going to have a problem always.”
Most air cargo theft happens during these points of consolidation, JJ Coughlin, chairman at Southwest Transportation Security Council, says. Coughlin published a book called Cargo Crime: Security and Theft Prevention in 2012.
“When it’s in the plane flying is the safest it gets,” he says. “When it’s being handled at those points of consolidation is when it’s as risky as it gets.”
He says in order to fight theft, document each point of handling.
“If you take care of the small things, the process and the procedure, and you do things correctly as far as the freight handling, it makes your security issues a whole lot easier to resolve,” Coughlin says.
Hoffer says without a plan to create a chain of custody, the carrier or trucking company doesn’t know that a box contains valuable cargo, and they may not protect it in the appropriate way.
“The further into the supply chain you get with the less people have knowledge of what to look for and what to do, the whole system continues to break down further and further,” Hoffer says.
That’s why the owner of the cargo needs a game plan.
“If he can establish how to do it and it can be implemented by the receiving carrier, then by the receiving airline, then by the delivering carrier,” Hoffer says, “now you have a system that actually works.”
It is also imperative to screen anyone who handles cargo.
Coughlin estimates that 85 percent of the theft that happens during consolidation is internal.
Evans, who is chief cargo officer at Swiss International Airlines, says companies should screen warehouse and office staff and anyone else involved in the supply chain. Employers typically check police background, he says. Evans also stresses the importance of screening staff as they enter and leave the premises.
People can secure the supply chain by choosing business partners with care.
Charles Forsaith, Providence, R.I.-based director of supply chain security at Purdue Pharma Technologies, ensures the security of one of the company’s principle products, a sought-after opioid pain medication. The ingredients for the medication mostly come from Tasmania, Spain and Turkey.
In order to bring the raw materials into the U.S., the company uses airfreight almost exclusively.