Cargo security is essential for the maintenance of global supply chains and global economies. For hundreds of years shipping cargo has been under the threat of both piracy and the elements, and although things are far better now, there is still plenty of risk. Yet, as one of the most efficient ways to transfer mass amounts of cargo around the world, shipping remains a vital part of international trade.
Piracy remains a large concern, particularly for vessels which pass through waters off of the Somali coast. It was only 7 years ago where heavily armed pirates hijacked three merchant vessels to hold their crews and cargos to ransom. At this point, 99% of ships were unprotected since pirates had never seriously attempted the larger freight vessels. The Maersk Alabama was hijacked only the following year, as portrayed in the gripping film Captain Phillips, and shows just how vulnerable these vessels were.
Since these events, security on shipping vessels increased tenfold. First razor wire, electric fences and non lethal water hoses and sound guns were employed as the question about the worth of armed guards remained up for debate. Now however, particularly for vessels in waters known for piracy, armed guards are fairly commonplace among the larger shipping companies with the guards themselves typically ex-military. Governments have also started to contribute to the safety of vessels and their cargo, with Nato and EU warships frequently on patrol, as well as maritime patrol aircraft. Levels of piracy have plummeted, but this is definitely no reason for the industry to become complacent.
Problems of theft and loss of cargo don’t always occur on ships, however. There have been cases of theft and drugs trafficking within shipyards and warehouses, where goods have been stolen to settle debt and even fund drug rings. With correct employee screening, strict regulations and a strong organization, where all workers must repeatedly log their actions and goods must be documented frequently, this can be avoided. Staying alert within the work environment is essential for cargo security, not only for high value cargo but low value too.
In 2012, food and drink had replaced electronics as the most likely cargo to be stolen. Due to a lower value, shippers had become relaxed in their security, and combined with minimum penalties for cargo theft, organized crime took advantage. Communication is key to the solution. Covert GPS systems and regular checks on both cargo and employees reduce and vulnerability. Passing containers through CSI (Container Security Initiative) ports also reduce risks, as the program allows CBP to post staff in foreign ports and examine high-risk cargo.
In just 10 years cargo security has vastly improved on both private and government levels, but there are still areas for improvement. Shippers need to remain vigilant against piracy and organized crime. Despite security measures becoming an added overhead cost, they are worth it to avoid the price of lost cargo or hijacked vessels.