Hijackings multiply for their cargo
Hijackings are not new to South Africa. Mostly, they occur at the hands of syndicates looking to meet vehicle quotas for illegal export beyond our borders. More recently, they are becoming a serious threat to the tyre business as well, not so much for the vehicle, but for its precious cargo – tyres!
SA TREADS spoke with some tyre companies that have fallen victim to this growing threat.
Our findings were able to confirm that the interest does not lie with the vehicle itself, but rather with the load it carries. We ascertained that these hijackings are not a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but were strategically planned.
Well organized syndicates target key people in the distribution department who are able to supply times and delivery dates. In some cases, drivers are informed that they need to hand over the truck or risk being physically harmed. In other cases, drivers are part of the deal, receiving money for handing over the stolen goods.
Interestingly too, there is no specific tyre size or brand being targeted. The interest lies in a fully loaded truck, irrespective of its cargo. Clearly, a market exists for stolen tyres, although according to some of the affected players we spoke with, they had been unable to establish whether these tyres were being sold locally or across our borders into neighbouring countries.
According to our sources, high-risk areas for such incidents appear to be the N12 towards Delmas, as well as Kempton Park, Edenvale and Springs.
“But irrespective of the area travelled, should your vehicle be targeted they will claim it,” cautions, Pieter Schutte Thomas Tyres Group of Companies National Breakdowns & Fleet Manager: “One of our trucks was hijacked in Edenvale in a busy street opposite a shopping centre, in broad daylight. Hijackers are not deterred. They know that passers-by are afraid of them and are unlikely to get involved. Two hours after this particular incident, our driver was dropped off in a secluded area, unharmed, after which he walked to the nearest garage or police station to report the incident.
“We were victim to four incidents of this kind,” continued Schutte, “three where we lost the loads but were able to recover our vehicles and another where actual shots were fired at our vehicle, hitting the vehicle, but luckily missing the driver who was able to get away after refusing to stop.”
Our sources say that these hijackings all had one thing in common. The vehicle is taken from the loading point, fully laden with tyres, and subsequently pulled over by unmarked vehicles with blue strobe lights disguised as official police cars. The moment the vehicle stops, a gun is pointed at the driver and he is duly loaded into another vehicle. Next, the vehicle is taken and a signal jammer is activated thus rendering the vehicle undetectable to the tyre company for about an hour (especially if the driver is unable to activate the panic button ahead of his capture). In this time period the vehicle is taken to the nearest secluded area where the perpetrators meet up with another truck. The tyres are offloaded onto the other vehicle, while the original vehicle is usually abandoned there, fully intact.
A Bandag bakkie travelling on the N1 north to Pretoria West to deliver 20 or more tyres, was also targeted in April of this year.
“While on the road our driver noticed another driver in the next lane indicating that something was wrong with the trailer,” said Monal Naik Marketing Manager Bandag: “After pulling off near Olievenhoutbosch to inspect, another vehicle pulled up and three males got out. Suspecting that something was amiss, our driver attempted to run towards the driver door, only to be over-powered. They threw him in the back of the vehicle in which they arrived, drove around with him, robbed him of his belongings and took him to a nearby ATM where he was forced to withdraw all his money from his account. Eventually, they dropped him off behind a warehouse in Westonaria.”
We learnt that over the past four months, tyre businesses such as Bridgestone, Tirepoint, Yokohama and Kaltire have also fallen prey to similar incidents thereby signalling a disturbing new trend in the industry.
As for the South African Police, our sources said that as helpful as they try to be with the initial investigation, there is a limit to any assistance they can offer.
Explained Schutte: “After spending time with the police following an incident like this, you come to realise that there is no feasible way that they can keep up with tracking these criminals. The number of vehicle thefts, hijackings etc. daily is overwhelming and I do not believe the police has sufficient resources to investigate each case properly.
“However, were one to invest in the services of a private investigator, I am certain they would be able to get to the bottom of some of these cases. Of course, there would be costs involved there and with no assurance of a proper conviction when all was said and done.”
In the meantime, what, if anything, can be done to minimise the risk of becoming a target? Our sources suggest investing in anti-hijacking course for drivers, ensuring that a proper monitored tracking system coupled with a second back-up or stealth unit be installed in every vehicle and that vehicles are suitably equipped with panic buttons and door sensors.
In addition, they urge businesses to load fixed routes onto tracking maps which will automatically send out a notification should the vehicle deviate from their specified route. If at all possible, they further suggest conducting regular polygraph tests on distribution personnel as well as drivers, and should a hijacking occur, making polygraph tests standard company policy.
Although polygraph tests will not stand in labour court, they will provide a strong indication as to anyone within the company who may be working with any organised hijacking syndicate.