Cargo Theft A Problem On European Highways

Organized crime groups see trucking as 'easy pickings' involving low risk and high returns, Europol report said, with such thefts costing companies $11 billion from 2000-2005.

AMSTERDAM (AP) -- Europe's highways are little better for trucks than Somalia's coast is for cargo ships -- both are high risk areas for hijacking, according to a report Tuesday by the European police agency.

Organized crime groups see trucking as "easy pickings" involving low risk and high returns, said the report by Europol, based in The Hague.

Romania, Hungary and Poland suffered the heaviest losses, but the Netherlands, Britain, France and Italy also have high-risk highways, it said.

The report cited a 2007 study estimating direct losses from the theft of trucks and cargo at euro8.2 billion over the first five years of this decade. That's just a fraction of the true cost when accounting for indirect losses like replacing stolen items, reshipping or rebuilding damaged reputations, said the report.

The report gave no figure for the number of thefts, saying police forces often do not compile statistics on freight-related crimes and many incidents go unreported.

During that period, 17 percent of truck drivers reported that they had been attacked at least once, and nearly one-third of those had been hit multiple times, the report said, quoting a survey by the International Road Union and International Transport Forum.

It said 42 percent of the attacks occurred while the vehicle was parked. The most common tactic is to slash a parked truck's fabric sides and quickly unload it.

In other cases, the truck is forced to stop on the road by a staged accident or a false checkpoint. Some thefts occur while the truck is still moving, with robbers jumping onto it from their own vehicle and throwing goods off the back.

An increasing number of thefts involve guns and violence, especially in Britain, it said.

Cargo theft has become an international crime, "often with criminals from one country committing crime in another, offloading those goods in a third and reselling them in yet another country," said the report.

Metals like copper and nickel that can be sold on the volatile metal market are the preferred loot, but organized crime also likes other easily sold goods like alcohol, computers and branded clothing.

"Still, criminals have repeatedly shown that they are willing to steal almost anything," it said.

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