The devices jam radio signals used by fleet managers to track vehicles and cargo and have become an increasing problem over the past year, an investigator employed by a listed logistics company told Business.
The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity and was careful not to let anything slip that might assist the criminals.
His employer, with a fleet of several thousand trucks, has suffered R57 million in damages owing to hijackings since the beginning of the year.
The company has been able to recover goods worth R35 million, which left it with a net loss of R22 million over the period.
In an effort to outsmart the criminals, vehicles are often fitted with three different tracking devices, but the jammers block all the signals, the investigator said.
Fitting three devices can cost up to R7 500 per vehicle that travels within the country’s borders – and could cost R33 000 if it travels cross-border.
Gavin Kelly, technical and operations manager of the Road Freight Association, confirmed hijackings were a serious risk. He said in 2013 the cost to the industry was estimated at R450 million.
Kelly believed the number might be much higher.
Most jamming devices are simply plugged into the vehicle’s lighter jack and block out all the tracking signals, which results in the control room losing contact with the vehicle.
The investigator said it was not uncommon to lose signals for a short period of time because of technical reasons, which made it even more difficult to detect possible hijackings.
Time is of the essence in combating hijackings, since as little as 15 minutes is needed to off-load 8 tons – or R12 million worth – of cigarettes, for example.
Gone in 30 minutes
He said a three-axle horse and trailer with a load of cigarettes could be worth between R20 million and R30 million. This could be off-loaded within 30 minutes.
The jamming devices are frequently used where stolen freight is being stored, to counter possible tracking devices hidden in the cargo.
By keeping the truck and driver off-line for up to 12 hours, investigators are left with very little information to follow up or investigate.
“When that golden hour has passed, it becomes increasingly difficult to recover the cargo and truck and catch the perpetrators,” he said.