Truck Hijackings, Crime and Road Safety
Introduction: Truck Hijackings: Investigation and Analysis
In recent years we have become aware of an increase in road-related crimes. Not only have we reported on the hijackings, car theft and incidents of smash-and-grab, but have also seen the much more organized crime of truck hijacking [truck jackings].
In the development of the Arrive Alive website, it is our objective to provide road users with information that could assist in making safer decisions on the road. This may create alertness of risks on the road such as those presented not only by reckless road users but also criminals.
How can we better protect our truck drivers and others transporting road cargo from truck hijackings and other crimes aimed at taking ownership of the cargo?
As much of the modus operandi is far more organized than your usual car hijacking we have decided to analyse this through a Q&A with a transport tactical risk specialist, Stan Bezuidenhout.
With years of experience investigating truck crashes and loss of trucks via collisions and hijackings, would you say that there has been an increase in truck hijackings?
Not only has there been an increase in specifically truck hijackings, but disturbing evolutions in the modus operandi has been detected. When truck hijackings first appeared as an “issue” in South Africa, as far back as 2000, it was almost always about the product.
Most hijackings would be limited to Cash-in-transit operations, electronics and valuable goods. It would normally involve cash money or products that are easy to sell (think Electronics, Cell Phones, etc) and mostly involved “inside jobs” where staff or employees have been coerced into cooperating with product-specific syndicates.
As security measures increased, so the complexity operations, methodology and interest evolved. Now, we would detect trends, ranging from type-specific vehicles (certain makes of trucks, certain types of trailers, etc) being targeted often. As an example, we would see a sudden peak in tri-axle trailers being stolen and heading directly towards borders.
Where the product was sold into a pre-defined market in South Africa, more and more syndicates are starting to appear with apparent international links and interests. The latest trend we are seeing is that the cigarette industry is being targeted.
The product is featureless (no serial numbers, tracking, tracing or retain control), the vehicles are largely unprotected, no hard armour is used and drivers are poorly trained, poorly equipped and easily intimidated since their vehicles are typically also smaller. So - in short - yes. To disturbing levels!
Is it true that these truck jackings/ hijackings have become more “professional”? If indeed true, why would you say so?
Yes. Years ago it was about firepower and surprise. Criminals would approach, overwhelm and rob vehicles. As security measures, tracking options, security escorts, task-specific policing units, faster communication methods and marking, tracking and tracing of the product has started becoming more commonplace, so the methods, weapons, technology and techniques have evolved too.
Criminals are now so sophisticated that they are using signal jammers, diversion tactics, infiltration teams, blackmail and even planted employees to reach product or assets. Criminals have also become more professional in terms of technique and process.
This is another disturbing trend and we predict that explosives will likely be the next “wave” as reaction times of security units improve. We predict that it is only a matter of time before this trend will develop. Intelligence suggests that criminals are becoming more advanced, more experienced, more brazen and more coordinated. An assault on a vehicle with multiple armed men, multiple vehicles and drivers to deal with is cumbersome.
A rapid assault with maximum prejudice - especially with high-value assets like precious metals or money - would certainly be over more rapidly. We wait with bated breath...
It is often said that they are often performed with military precision – do you find proof of this and do you believe that former military police and traffic officers are involved in truck hijackings in South Africa?
Not only are hijackings becoming more commonplace that display operational efficiency typically is seen where police or military units are involved, but now the trend is for South African Police, METRO Police, Private Security and even Military personnel to be directly involved in hijacking operations.
We receive regular intelligence about shoot-outs that result in the fatality of police officers. Real officers, working side-by-side with criminals. As the trend has been on the increase, cloned police vehicles - normal vehicles branded and equipped to look exactly like operational police vehicles - are being seen, reported and recovered regularly.
In one instance, when real police officers responded to a robbery in progress, they noticed another marked police vehicle leaving the area. They gave chase and a shooting ensued. Several criminals were shot and killed as was an actual police officer from a Gauteng police station, in full police uniform.
Allegations are often made of “an inside job” – is this true – what might be the signs of collusion between those packing trucks, truck drivers and the beneficiaries of the crimes?
As I am compiling this reply, we have received intelligence from Port Elizabeth where an employee of a security company was approached by three men, at his house. They requested his cooperation with efforts to steal vehicles from a workshop in the Eastern Cape.
In 2014 two vehicles were stolen from the same facility and driven all the way to a South African border post before anyone - including tracking and recovery companies - were even aware that the vehicles were missing. Luckily, a vigilant police officer became suspicious and investigated further.
The drivers who were arrested with the vehicles were paid R5,000.00 each just for driving the vehicles to the border. Staff members from commercial enterprises (trucking companies), security companies, workshops and even traffic departments and roadworthy centres are regularly approached and targeted to become accessories to theft and hijackings.
Do you believe that fleet operators and logistics can make a difference in addressing these crimes through better screening of employees?
Most commercial operations - trucking companies specifically - are geared for profit; for operations. Their control rooms, tracking systems, fleet management systems, drivers and even management staff are trained and repeatedly tested on the operational efficacy of the operations. They keep trucks running. They make money. But they lack any skill when it comes to the detection-, mitigation- or reaction to criminal operations. They are not tactical officers. They are not risk-averse. They are not supposed to be, they are not trained to be and they did not apply to be.
For this reason, proper intelligence-driven tactical awareness is a key component in what we term assault driven risk. While the screening of employees is very subjective - an employee can be “turned” at any point - the systems, processes and risk mitigation strategies within organizations need to be professionally developed to make coercion and attack as risky as possible for criminals.
There are many companies out there. By developing a sound tactical risk mitigation strategy, operators will make their fleets less attractive and hopefully divert interest to their less risk-averse competition by contract or industry.
This is a game of target value reduction - and it is always going to be comparative. If another company or organization is easier to infiltrate, attack or assault that you, your risk is reduced. Period.
Can driver training make a contribution towards reducing the risk of losing a truck or cargo? Do companies provide enough training to drivers and are there professionals available to assist with this?
Yes. Most definitely. Drivers are employed primarily on account of their skills as drivers. In a perfect world, a “good driver” is someone who has experience operating a commercial vehicle (since this is the topic of relevance) with many years of sound experience and a low collision or product loss rate. As long as he is legally licensed, capable and willing to commit, he is pretty much employed.
We provide Tactical Hijacking Awareness Training to drivers almost monthly. Drivers need to be alerted to the risks they face, the mechanisms at their disposal to detect and react to those risks and their role in the global risk mitigation strategy.
Preparedness is not only about “what to do when you are hijacked” but also about how to detect a potential hijacking scenario, what emotional and physical reactions they can expect when they fall victim to a hijacking and what they can do to stay alive during the hijacking as well as the elements they need to (attempt to) focus on to aide in the post-event analysis and intelligence gathering exercise that invariably follows.
Driver training needs to involve physical exposure to firearms - they need to see and feel the real thing, see how real toys can be and understand the risks if they resist.
A good example of the kind of issues drivers need to consider can be seen in a video I made, currently on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pH3LjSfsHu0
Here are also some photographs of me providing tactical awareness training to truck drivers in a corporate setting:
What is the modus operandi of truck “jackers” with regards to hijacking trucks or hijacking cargo? Does this differ with regards to what the intended objective is?
The modus operandi in hijacking varies enormously. There are about as many permutations as there are scenarios. What is a common trend, however, is that most hijackings rely on two methods to facilitate first contact: Staging and Surprise.
In staging, a scenario is presented to look as normal and innocent as possible. This typically involved any staged scenario like a police road-block, broken down car, a hitch-hiker, efforts to stop the truck by suggesting a fault, staged collisions, etc. When the driver is brought to a stop or slowed down, there is an initial interaction that presents as normal and light and then the hijackers pounce.
In Surprise approaches, the hijackers will typically wait for the truck to slow down or stop naturally and assault the driver by gaining surprise access to the vehicle. Stopped vehicles with resting drivers are also specifically at risk as are vehicles even inside depots and yards - hijackings have been perpetrated against facilities, depot and plants on many occasions.
What are the major safety points for truck drivers to be aware of to avoid getting hijacked?
These are a list of points drivers should all be aware of:
Consider EVERY unscheduled stop a possible assault. No matter whether it is a police roadblock, collision, cattle or a broken vehicle - follow “assault protocol” and PREVENT an attack.
Keep your doors LOCKED. The passenger door is the most common access point for hijackers.
DO NOT pick up hitch-hikers. Not even women. In a recent attack, a driver was given a drink by a woman and passed out. He woke up, tied up, in the field. Five hours after his truck was taken.
Stay in touch with your control room. If you are going to stop - tell them how long, where and what other vehicles/people are present when you stop. List number plates, if possible.
When you are hijacked, DO NOT RESIST. Very few hijackings (currently) result in serious injury or fatalities. Many cases where drivers resisted have. Just cooperate - it is less dangerous.
DO NOT use your PANIC BUTTON for ANYTHING other than PANIC. Using it to “ask your controller to call you” results in panic alarms being ignored, when there is a real panic situation.
Use your truck if you have to. If any effort is made to stop you by a light vehicle, call the police or your controller/tracking company for guidance and use your truck if you are instructed to, as a defensive tool.
DO NOT trust ANYONE. There is no way for anyone to tell you what a “real hijacker” looks like. They come in all shapes, sizes and even races and sexes. Be suspicious and stay alert.
Do we find more of these hijackings near the major metropolitan areas? Is this purely because of ease of getting away or would you say the ease with which cargo can be disposed of?
There is definitely a greater number of hijackings in major metropolitans - but this might only be because there are more trucks. There is currently no way to develop any predictive statistical model or to determine the true extent of the problem because intelligence processes are very remedial, there is almost no exchange of intelligence.
Equally, there might be many attempted hijacking cases that are lost to intelligence efforts. Police will typically not entertain a criminal charge if no product or valuables are lost. This is a serious issue and should be addressed as a matter of greatest priority.
How important is the type of cargo in truck hijackings - is its value or rather ease with which it can be disposed of that determines the likeliness of getting hijacked?
There is not only one answer to this question. Where value is involved (precious metals, high-value assets, etc), hijacking operations are target-specific and often outlets and potential markets are developed long before the hijacking occurs.
Equally, some syndicates specialise in fuel, for instance. This means that the targets are identified based on product and value rather than ease or protocol. Equally, there are many cases where companies - normally smaller operators - simply make it too easy for vehicles to be hijacked.
Poor driver culture (picking up passengers, stopping in unsafe areas, etc.) invariably leads to increased risk. On the other hand, small operations that have poor management culture fail to make use of the latest technologies, fail to select reputable tracking companies and/or fail to take any measures to reduce risk in an ever-present profit goal.
Do you believe that our fleet managers are using the latest in technology to track cargo and vehicles?
Some yes, others no. The biggest issue is that - important as asset and product safety maybe - you still get “bargain shoppers.” Some operators opt for the bare minimum. They make use of the cheapest solutions they can find; in the hope that the knowledge that something is present will be a deterrent.
There are also tracking and recovery companies that are more agents for others than true suppliers of the service - they will “sell” tracking and recovery services but essentially “buy” the service from a bigger service provider.
As such, they might not be the most skilled experts in the selection of the appropriate solution for specific clients or operational models and might lack the tactical skill required for effective asset protection.
The best idea for any operation considering tracking and/or recovery solutions is to speak to national groups to hear who and what they use. A tactical security/recovery expert could also be consulted to provide in-house assistance by attending presentations and/or vetting service providers before decisions are made.
How well do fleet managers, tracking companies, tactical response companies and law enforcement agencies work together in recovering vehicles?
Dismally, actually. While some agencies, police units, tracking and recovery agents will do whatever it takes and cooperate and work with whoever they can find, as long as a vehicle is recovered, others sadly deviate from this joined the effort. In recent times, we have become aware of tracking and recovery service providers that specifically and intentionally withhold intelligence from others in the industry until they have exhausted all internal efforts.
Then - when they cannot find the client’s vehicle they will (reluctantly) share the loss. But - since many tracking and recovery companies earn money by charging a per-hour rate for the recovery, they might be best served to “run a bill” before exploring other options. While there is no specific proof of this, there are operators that are less cooperative than others. We can only hope that - one day - there will be total cooperation between all role-players.
What more should be done to address truck hijackings?
There is a serious lack of understanding for the value intelligence-driven operations can offer. Even on active hijacking and recovery groups on social media (mostly WhatsApp, BBM and Zello), information is provided in its most basic form only. A very short message, reading “Hijacked, Hino, ABC123DE, Durban” is what is typically seen and offers basic information but no intelligence. In a perfect world, proper intelligence would include:
Details of the vehicle like description, colour and markings.
Load and cargo details - many operators know where the cargo will be headed, based on type.
Additional Vehicle Details - Number plates can be replaced quickly, VIN and Engine Numbers, Data Dot details, etc. not so easy.
Modus Operandi - Whether police vehicles are involved, how many suspects are involved, type of clothing, firearm types or even cars used are vital.
Date and time of the loss - often reports merely say “yesterday” or “earlier today.” The EXACT time helps us determine the possible radius of movement.
Tracking Detail - By knowing which tracking/recovery service is involved, those operators can be contacted directly by the ground crew, if the vehicle is spotted.
Amount of fuel - by knowing how much fuel the vehicle had helped establish whether the suspects will need to fill up or might move very far, easily.
Demands, questions and/or commands - by knowing what suspects wanted, asked and/or said, their intentions or heading might be predicted.
Where there is a lack of intelligence, there is a lack of planning. Operators providing only basic details frustrate efforts and demotivate operators while vehicles are lost.
Can “online” technology such as social media play a role in addressing truck hijackings/
Absolutely. We are members of- and/or operate about 35 WhatsApp groups. One of our groups focuses specifically on Truck Hijackings and Collisions and is reserved specifically for the risk executives or asset managers of trucking companies.
By providing a platform for the rapid exchange of developing risks and trends, all our members receive immediate intelligence - enabling them to effect operational protocols that exploit this intelligence.
They can redirect vehicles, declare routes unsafely, ask for assistance - even armed intervention - immediately or merely benefit from knowing about trends, closed routes of collisions that could affect their operational efforts.
Important advice you might have for those considering vehicle tracking?
Get an external tactical risk expert to assist you and guide you with the decision-making process. Most commercial operators have no or little tactical-, Security-, assault risk- or policing experience. This enables service providers to “hard sell” their ideas with typical sales pitches, charts and accolades.
There are specific, tough and intelligent questions that should be asked of a possible service provider that a Tactical Expert can manage on your behalf. We have found that our input has benefited our clients enormously and that they have seen a definite decline in assault experiences.
[A word of appreciation to Stan Bezuidenhout for the assistance in answering these questions]
Stanley S Bezuidenhout
Forensic Road Transport and Risk Expert
Crash Guys International
More on Stan Bezuidenhout
Stan Bezuidenhout is a former South African Navy Military Intelligence Officer and a former Specialist Reservist in the South African Police with active contact experience in high-risk environments with more confrontations under his belt than most mortal men should endure.
With over 20 years Martial Arts experience and after many years working closely with the security sector and as a road traffic risk mitigation expert, servicing some of the biggest names in the trucking industry in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Lesotho, Swaziland, Kenya and even in the Middle East, Stan has brought his extensive road traffic risk experience to bear in an effort to help his many clients reduce what he calls their “assault risk.”
Stan helps clients develop tactical strategies, alongside their security service providers, designed to reduce all aspects of road risk. Stan is highly regarded as an expert in his primary field of expertise - road traffic collision reconstruction.