The ‘Cargo Theft – Criminal Org Chart’ produced by law enforcement agencies in Brazil has a formidable look about it. But for the types of players involved and the nature of their activities, the approach and processes resemble those of most international supply chains.

In this case, however, the ‘buyers’ are the resellers of stolen goods who place their ‘orders’ on a daily basis. The ‘sourcing’ is done by offenders who know how and where to identify the goods required, and the ‘transport providers’ are very often drugs dealers who rent out weapons, vehicles and tools to cargo thieves, to facilitate the ‘pick-up’. Those on the frontline whose job it is to physically go in to seize the products on order are estimated to commit an average of 8-10 robberies per day, frequently targeting high tech goods.

In one of the latest incidents reported to TAPA’s Incident Information Service (IIS), criminals followed a truck loaded with smartphones from a distribution center and attacked the vehicle and its security escort in broad daylight on the highway connecting Rio de Janeiro and the city’s airport. One of the security guards was shot in the attack in what was just one of up to 22 truck hijackings a day that take place in the city.

In another case on 7 March, four armed criminals invaded an airline warehouse in the cargo area of International Airport of RioGaleao in Rio de Janeiro by hiding inside a trailer as the vehicle passed through the main gate. Heavily armed, the gang reportedly spent 40 minutes in the facility stealing a shipment of mobile devices stored in its security cage, forcing staff to load their truck with the cargo before making their escape.

For the country’s law enforcement agencies, fighting cargo crime is a 24/7/365 occupation and the sheer volume of attacks is constantly stretching their resources to the limit – but the resolve of the Government to target those behind these very public assaults on the Brazilian economy means they continue to close in on, and close down, the organized crime groups behind this growing ‘industry’.

This month, the second phase of ‘Operation Espolidor II’ removed 80 suspects from Rio’s streets who are believed to be connected with cargo crimes in 13 counties. Several stores were closed down and their owners arrested too. 

Whether the news is good or bad, the topic of cargo crime in Brazil is now so widely publicised, it has become a part of everyday life.

TAPA Americas’ latest Brazil Cargo Theft Annual Report, produced in association with Sensitech, gives a revealing snapshot of the size of the challenge facing the authorities. In 2019, TAPA’s IIS recorded a total of 2,816 cargo theft incidents in Brazil, up 1.2% over 2018 and 15.4% versus 2017. In order to be included in the TAPA Americas’ IIS database, an incident must provide information on mode, product category, and city and state.

Data for all known cargo thefts - including incidents where the level of intelligence does not qualify them to be included in the IIS database – offers a glimmer of hope that, despite the high volume of attacks on supply chains, the preventative measures being enforced are producing encouraging results.

In São Paulo in 2019, the overall total of cargo thefts of 7,315 represented a 16% decrease over the previous year. The same is true in Rio de Janeiro, the other main hotspot of criminal activity, where crimes were down 19% year-on-year to 7,450.

Across the expanse of São Paulo, in Q4 2019 only three of the 11 regions in the Sensitech report saw an increase in crimes:

·        Araçatuba – up 33%

·        Bauru -up 17%

·        Ribeirão – up 13%

In the Capital region for the year as a whole, the 3,752 reported incidents were down 11% over 2018, while in Greater São Paulo there was an even bigger decline of 23% to 1,844 crimes. Two other regions all averaging more than one crime per day in 2019 also saw a fall in incident rates:

·        Campinas – where the 469 incidents were down18% year-on-year

·        Santos – 395 crimes in 2019, a 29% drop

Piracicaba – which recorded 434 incidents in 2018 – also saw significantly fewer crimes last year. The incident rate was down 34% to 285.

Most cargo crime events in São Paulo in 2019 occurred along the Anhangera and Dutra highways.

There was an equally positive decline in all but one of the regions of Rio de Janeiro. Despite the 16% increase in crimes in Sul Fluminense over the course of the year, the state’s two most critical regions, Capital and Baixada Fuminense, recorded annual reductions of cargo thefts of 22% and 8% respectively, while the biggest overall falls were reported in North & North East Fluminense and Highland Region of 35% and 28% respectively.

A high crime rate was seen on the BR-101 in the region of São Gonaçalo, while other highways classed as hotspots were Dutra, BR-040 and other points along the BR-101.

Hijacking was the type of incident recorded for 90% of all thefts covered by the 2019 report, with most attacks taking place on Street (59%) and Roadway (20%). Crimes mostly took place in the morning (41%) and afternoon (24%). Across Brazil as a whole, goods were targeted in 11 TAPA IIS product categories, led by Food & Drinks (18% of the annual total) and Tobacco (16%).

The report concludes: “Since 2018, Brazil has shown a downward trend in cargo thefts and this continued in 2019, despite particularly high value robberies at airports, including, most notably,  Galeão, Viracopos, and Guarulhos. These involved high losses of valuables such as cash, jewellery and electronics. Despite the falling numbers, there are areas where the risk of cargo thefts remains very high. Opportunity robberies are still very frequent, and highly organized and prepared gangs also continue to opera


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