Guarding the Goods: Examining Rate of Cargo Theft in PH

Cargo theft is a long-standing international problem that affects businesses and consumers alike. The term “cargo theft” refers to the criminal taking of cargo as the goods pass through the global supply chain. These goods that move between the point of origin and their final destination are usually exposed to exploitation by highly motivated and innovative cargo thieves. As such, manufacturers, suppliers, logistics providers, and transportation providers all face a difficult challenge on how to avoid or eliminate cargo theft, especially on the high seas.

Cargo Theft: A Widespread Problem Affecting the Philippines

Cargo theft is primarily a maritime issue that different industries have been facing for many years. As a matter of fact, based on a survey conducted by the World Shipping Council (WSC), whose member companies operate around 80% of the containership capacity in the world, there were about 1,582 containers lost at sea annually between 2008 and 2016.

Although cargo loss may sometimes be accidental in nature, it cannot be denied that the problem of cargo theft is happening on a large scale across the globe. Especially in today’s modern world where new technology can be accessed more easily, cargo thieves targeting any point of the supply chain are becoming bolder, savvier, and better organised.

However, a 2021 report on cargo theft indicates that there are now substantial new risk trends for the transport industry, especially following the COVID-19 health crisis. Based on the report, which was compiled by supply-chain intelligence provider BSI and transport and logistics insurer TT Club, the most important trend they have observed is the relative shift in the thefts’ location.

While theft of cargo in transit continues to be the most common problem, its share reduced from 87% in the year 2019 to 71% in 2020. On the other hand, theft from storage facilities like warehouses increased to 25% of the overall thefts.

Although the extent of the increase varied from region to region, such trend remains a reflection of the disruption experienced by supply chains due to some radical changes in consumer purchasing patterns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Asia, particularly, around 50% of total thefts consisted of storage-based risks. However, in Southeast Asia, the in-transit risks indicated the rampancy of corruption and bribery, with a high percentage of freight thefts being carried out by customs employees and other officials. Although Bangladesh, China, India, and Indonesia were the top Asian countries for cargo theft, other countries, such as the Philippines, also experience this problem on a significant scale.

For instance, from January to August 2020, six sea thefts, two sea robberies, and two attempted action incidents were reported by the Information Fusion Centre (IFC) in both Batangas Bay and Manila Bay, Philippines. This was an increase in the number of theft, robbery, and piracy at sea (TRAPS) occurrences in the same areas from only two and three incidents in 2019 and 2018, respectively. 

What Companies Can Do to Prevent Cargo Theft

Cargo theft is a serious problem that can cost companies millions of dollars. With the advent of newer and more easily accessible technology as well as the recent rise in the volume of cargo shipments after the global health crisis, it can be reasonably expected that the number of freight theft incidents will continue to increase in the coming years.

Along with this, companies should expect cargo thieves to employ new and more complex strategies in carrying out their crimes. As such, it has become more important than ever for companies worldwide to strengthen their security measures against cargo theft.

One of the most essential measures for combatting cargo theft is keeping up-to-date with technology. Technology for the prevention of cargo theft is constantly evolving. Recent technology now goes beyond simply scanning and tracking numbers in packages. Low-tech options, such as security seals on cargo, enable companies to find any evidence of theft or tampering. High-tech GPS devices, on the other hand, allow companies to track shipments along the whole shipping line.

It is now also possible for delivery trucks to be monitored constantly by equipping them with new technology, such as immobilisers and trackers. According to reports, the cost of cargo theft, on average, is $50,000. By investing in technology that prevents these theft occurrences, companies can save money in the long run.

Besides investing in new technology, it is also essential for companies to hire trustworthy workers and carry out proper training programs. A critical step in the prevention of cargo theft is worker education. Since freight theft is a crime of opportunity, companies should utilise worker training and procedures to minimise their vulnerabilities and reduce opportunities for theft.

For example, according to some reports, cargoes are most likely to be stolen from unattended fully-loaded trucks within 200 miles from departure. As such, companies should educate their employees to travel beyond the 200-mile red zone before ever stopping.

At the distribution centres, companies should also see to it that they conduct assessments to make sure that no cargo goes missing or gets lost. Unfortunately, internal theft is another huge problem for distributors. For this reason, hiring reliable workers and ensuring that sufficient surveillance technology is put in place is necessary.

Internal audits at distribution centres are important because workers are less likely to commit a theft when they think that they are at risk of getting caught. Ultimately, by investigating both workers and inventory, companies can prevent their cargo from being stolen.


Cargo theft is a widespread problem. It affects almost every country in the world, including small ones like the Philippines. As the restrictions on travelling and shipping ease, and more and more sophisticated technologies are created, the increase of cargo theft incidents around the world is somehow inevitable.

That being said, there are several measures that companies (and governments) can employ to effectively thwart cargo thieves, such as taking advantage of new technologies to improve the monitoring and tracking of cargoes, increasing worker education, and conducting more efficient audits at crucial points of the supply chain. Essentially, in a sea of thieves, cargo protection should be done with proactive strategies.

Maritime Fairtrade is an independent online news platform that promotes ethics and transparency in Asia’s marine sector. Our maritime guide in Singapore is a comprehensive and informative resource which covers a diverse range of topics, including corruption, the illicit drug trade, and much more — ensuring that our readers remain apprised of the most pressing concerns in the industry. We invite you to visit our website for a more in-depth understanding and to stay abreast with the latest industry developments.

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