Experts skeptical of cargo theft declines in Mexico

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 4/26/2013

The latest report from FreightWatch International on the number of heavy truck and cargo thefts in Mexico shows a steep decline for the first quarter of 2013 compared to the same time frame last year.

FreightWatch found 303 reported incidents of cargo theft in January, February and March of 2013, compared with 486 incidents during the first quarter of 2012.

But the same experts who wrote the report caution that the decline has more to do with changes to how thefts are reported south of the border, rather than a sea-change in policies and practices that protect drivers and shippers.

FreightWatch references a “self-imposed gag order” implemented last year by at least some of the Mexican media on reporting on organized crime activities, citing concerns for the safety of their reporters and other employees.

“Official information on cargo crime also seemed more limited this quarter, perhaps due to efforts to address the county’s tarnished safety image,” the FreightWatch report stated. “The fact remains – Mexico continues to be a hot spot for cargo theft.”

The State of Mexico, which encompasses Mexico City, again topped the list of the 10 states most targeted by cargo criminals during the quarter.  The report notes other major changes to the list, including:

  • Nuevo Leon and Hidalgo, both included in the most at-risk states in Q1-12, dropped off the list and were replaced by Coahuila in eighth position and Michoacán in tenth.

  • Nuevo Leon is still considered a high-risk area for cargo crime, so FreightWatch speculates its drop could be “directly related to the manner in which incidents are reported and/or recorded in the state.”

  • Among the 303 cargo thefts, Food/Drinks remained the most targeted product type, with 29 percent of the total, compared to 27 percent last year. In second place this quarter was the Building/Industrial product type, with 19 percent of thefts, compared with 20 percent last year.

Officials with the Mexican government have also publicly stated that some highways in the states of Tamaulipas and Michoacán should be avoided by transporters due to high levels of crime, including incidents now occurring in broad daylight. Due to its dangers, carriers are now recommended to circle south through Monterrey in neighboring Nuevo Leon state rather than risk using Rivereña, a highway connecting the cities of Reynosa and Laredo in the northern border state of Tamaulipas.

Yet another dangerous route, the Mexico-Puebla-Veracruz highway, is nicknamed the “Bermuda Triangle” because “trucks carrying Electronics, Food/Drinks and Consumer Care products have a tendency to disappear” according to the report.

Hijacking remains the preferred means of theft in Mexico, with FreightWatch noting an emerging trend in Mexican media being the theft of the entire rig, rather than just the trailer and its contents.

Doug Morris, OOIDA’s director of security operations, concurs that the numbers are probably artificially deflated. He also said the companies shipping to Mexico face challenges such as hiring armed security for loads, camouflaging or disguising shipments, and securing insurance, all of which can pass costs on to consumers north and south of the border.

“If American companies go down there, they’re either self-insured or can’t get insurance at all,” he said. “It’s a big decision. I wouldn’t take a load down to Mexico for nothing, unless I had armed guards. And beyond that, you’re not going to get cargo insurance.”

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