As the massive backlog of cargo begins to release into the supply chain, the frenetic situation will be rife with opportunity for cargo criminals, FreightWatch cautioned.
By DOROTHY COX
The Trucker Staff
After reaching a tentative union agreement that covers the West Coast’s 29 seaports, dockworkers are clearing a mammoth backlog of cargo, but FreightWatch warns that in the rush to get goods moved and loaded, cargo safety could take a back seat.
“The requirement to move this enormous surge of cargo coupled with the systemic lack of driver assets yields a decreased quality of available carriers moving cargo through the volatile terrain,” FreightWatch said in a Feb. 26 threat assessment, adding that fewer and fewer drivers have knowledge of cargo security protocols.
The FreightWatch International Supply Chain Intelligence Center will be monitoring the situation but recommends that shippers “take precautionary measures as cargo will remain vulnerable throughout this process.”
Layered security measures are recommended, such as covert GPS tracking and active monitoring.
FreightWatch International provides logistics security services and cargo transparency throughout the supply chain.
The group said that from 2013 to 2014, 25 percent of all loaded cargo theft in the U.S. occurred within 200 miles of the ports of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, with crimes higher than the national average: 81 percent for clothing and shoes and 47 percent for electronics.
“As the massive backlog of cargo begins to release into the supply chain, the frenetic situation will be rife with opportunity for cargo criminals,” FreightWatch cautioned, adding that all parties involved should follow best practices for transportation security.
Indeed, The Associated Press reported this week that the cargo backlog has “hardly ever been worse,” adding that the 24 container ships anchored outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach held so much cargo Feb. 23 that if all their containers were stacked up they would rise more than 300 miles, higher than the orbit of the International Space Station.
“The bottleneck has ensnared farm and manufacturing exports as well as imported auto parts, toys, furniture and coffee beans, just about anything the United States trades with Asian nations,” AP stated.
Last fall, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union began slowing their work, with marine terminal operators responding by locking them out, and the ensuing tug-of-war causing some shipping jams.
Compounding the problem at LA/Long Beach was a shortage of truck beds to carry containers to and from the dockside yards.
And because of consolidation within the shipping industry, cargo was sometimes randomly loaded aboard ships in Asia rather than grouped by importer or destination, making off-loading a nightmare.
Under a contract reached Feb. 20, leaders of the union and the Pacific Maritime Association agreed that freight would be loaded and unloaded as fast as possible, but Monday found inexperienced workers operating the giant cranes used to unload cargo vessels, adding to more of a slowdown.
The deal reached by unions and terminal operators is for five years but is labeled as “tentative” because it was between negotiators who don’t have the authority to reach a final deal, according to AP.
It will take the union about two months to reach a final agreement.
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A Southwest Ranches man who played a key role in what prosecutors say was the biggest pharmaceutical drug theft in U.S. history faces as much as 10 years in federal prison when he is sentenced today.
Yosmany Nunez, 42, who is also known as El Gato (The Cat), admitted last year that he helped steal about $80 million worth of prescription drugs from a Connecticut warehouse. Some of the drugs were later sold on South Florida streets.
Nunez admitted he was one of a group of South Florida men who planned and executed the audacious theft of cancer and mental health drugs from the Eli Lilly Company warehouse in Enfield, Conn., in March 2010.
The men cut a hole in the roof of the warehouse, disabled the alarm system, waited to make sure that police did not show up, then used the company's forklifts to load more than 40 pallets of drugs on to a tractor trailer they had brought with them.
The drugs were then driven to a Doral storage facility, where some of them were found during a 2011 search. Authorities said some of the drugs – which included Zyprexa, Cymbalta, Prozac and Gemzar – were also sold illegally on the streets of South Florida.
"The offense was reportedly the largest pharmaceutical theft in U.S. history. It was choreographed and executed with precision. It involved multiple individuals, each of whom appeared at the right place and time and performed their particular role successfully," federal prosecutors in Connecticut wrote.
Nunez, who drove a Mercedes and lived in what prosecutors called "an opulent home" on two acres on the 17000 block of Southwest 70th Street. The residence was owned by a limited liability corporation, records show.
Nunez was arrested in April in Broward County, four years after the crime, and pleaded guilty to one count of transportation of stolen property in November.
The maximum penalty for the crime is 10 years in federal prison and authorities are recommending that the judge impose a prison term between seven and nine years when Nunez is sentenced in federal court in New Haven.
Nunez was "an integral planner and participant in this carefully choreographed caper and it was not his first foray into the cargo theft arena," federal prosecutors wrote. They urged the judge to impose a substantial term of imprisonment.
Nunez was born and raised in Cuba and dropped out of high school to help support his family, his lawyers H. Frank Rubio Jr. and Rodney Bryson wrote in court records.
In 1999 at age 27, Nunez came to the U.S. on a home-made raft. He began working in construction here, sent money home to his family and described life in the U.S. as "glorious," the defense said. He also drank a bottle of whiskey a day and failed to pay his taxes in recent years, according to himself and prosecutors.
"[Nunez] has indeed been humiliated and is extremely remorseful," his lawyers wrote. "Mr. Nunez HAS recognized his wrong and has taken the first steps necessary to put his life into order."
They said he played an important role in persuading some of his co-defendants to plead guilty, including during an unusual face-to-face encounter with one of his cohorts after they were arrested.
Nunez had his legal permanent U.S. resident status revoked and was ordered deported in March because of prior criminal convictions for interstate shipment theft and other offenses, according to prosecutors.
He was released from the Krome Detention Center pending deportation but remained in the U.S. because of his status as a Cuban citizen. He has been locked up since his arrest about a month later.
"Because the United States has taken diplomatic steps to normalize relations with Cuba, it is more likely that he will be deported from the United States," after serving his prison term, his defense lawyers wrote.
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By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
A bill on the move at the Mississippi statehouse would dole out stiff punishment for truck, rail or container cargo thieves.
The House Judiciary B Committee voted on Thursday, Jan. 29, to advance a bill that would establish cargo theft as a specific offense and impose felony charges with escalating fines and punishment based on the value of goods. Sponsored by Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, HB1263 mirrors a 2014 Georgia law.
According to FreightWatch International, Mississippi ranks 15th in the number of cargo thefts. California ranked first and neighboring Alabama ranked 14th.
Officials at OOIDA say legislative efforts to deter cargo theft are a step in the right direction to help protect truck drivers and their property.
Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said in most cases of cargo theft that owner-operators would effectively be out of business.
“In the short term, without equipment there is no way to make money and in the long term they might lose business from a freight broker or motor carrier,” Matousek said.
In an effort to discourage thefts in the state, offenders would face prison in addition to monetary penalties. Specifically, thieves who steal cargo from trucks loaded with controlled substances, or pharmaceuticals, valued at less than $10,000 would face fines up to $100,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.
Theft of controlled substances valued up to $1 million could result in as much as 25 years behind bars and/or fines up to $1 million. Loads valued in excess of $1 million could result in prison terms as long as 30 years and/or fines up to $1 million.
Violators of other property heists valued as much as $1,000 would face misdemeanor charges. Theft of cargo valued as high as $10,000 would include fines up to $100,000 and/or 10 years behind bars. Stolen loads valued in excess of $10,000 could result in 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $1 million.
Another provision in the bill covers fifth wheels, and any antitheft locking device attached to the fifth wheel. Any attempt to alter, move or sell a fifth wheel could result in 10-year prison terms and/or $100,000 fines.
OOIDA Director of Security Operations Doug Morris has also said that providing truckers with safe places to park is needed to address this issue.
The Mississippi bill, HB1263, awaits further consideration in the House.