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More than $99 million (85 million euros) worth of cargo was stolen from supply chains across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) in the first half of 2020, according to a report from the Transported Asset Protection Association’s (TAPA) Incident Information Service (IIS), released Thursday. TAPA officials said the losses came despite Covid-19 lockdowns that restricted people and vehicle movements across the continents in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.

The thefts included millions of dollars’ worth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other in-demand consumer goods, including groceries, cosmetics, and hygiene products, TAPA said. The group also said its intelligence indicates a strong presence of organized crime across the region, with groups “stealing to order” the in-demand items.

“It clearly takes more than a global pandemic to stop the activities of Organised Crime Groups,” Thorsten Neumann, president and CEO of TAPA EMEA, said in a statement announcing the mid-year report. “Anecdotal evidence also suggests an increase in cases of ‘stealing to order’ for goods in high demand during the early months of the pandemic. Our IIS database recorded a higher than usual number of incidents in which, for example, multiple vehicles in parking locations had their tarpaulin curtains slashed by thieves looking for products but no goods were taken in the attacks. This indicates offenders had very specific types of products in mind–and, almost certainly, black market customers already lined up to buy the goods.” 

TAPA’s IIS database recorded 3,728 incidents of cargo theft in the first 182 days of the year across the EMEA region. Nine product categories saw seven-figure losses for the six-month period: computers/laptops, pharmaceuticals, no load (theft of truck and/or trailer), tobacco, clothing and footwear, phones, food and drink, cosmetics and hygiene, and sports equipment. 

The PPE losses included two million face masks and other equipment stolen from a warehouse in northwest Spain. Valued at nearly $6 million (5 million euros), the incident was the biggest single loss of PPE during the first half of the year. Other incidents include millions of respiratory masks stolen from an aviation facility in Kenya in March; 500,000 face masks taken from a truck in France in May; and 200,000 face masks stolen from a truck at a highway service area in Spain, also in May. The data also show that 130,000 rolls of toilet paper were stolen from trailers in Walsall, in the United Kingdom, in mid-March.

The UK reported the highest number of major cargo losses in the first half of the year, followed by Germany.

TAPA officials said the results reinforce the already heightened focus on supply chain security during the pandemic.

“One of the outcomes of the Covid outbreak has been the global focus on supply chain resilience,”  Neumann said. “The level of cargo crime durig the lockdown will also focus the minds of companies to make their operations more secure.”

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