“Nope. The trick is to keep them moving so they are in one place as short a time as possible. If someone breaks the seal and steals everything inside, that will be noticed quickly and at least the location where it occurred can be identified and watched for further theft attempts. Despite what someone might say, it is not so easy to steal the contents of a container without breaking the seal. They are checked frequently and many are tamper proof. Each has a unique number and if someone breaks a seal and replaces it, they cannot easily match the original seal number.
However, according to Maritime Shipping Report, a large number of containers did arrive in Afghanistan for the US Military and with the original seal intact but they were empty. It turned out that what they were doing was simply removing the doors together with the hinges. This requires a crane and a lot of time which are available in Afghanistan.
Typically, breaking into a container is a waste of time unless it is an inside job. One container may contain $12M dollars in drugs, but in the next hundred may contain $100 worth of old textiles each going for recycling. Guessing is not a very profitable business and if you try it more than once or twice at the same depot, you will get caught.
No successful container theft requires some degree of insider’s help or a tremendous amount of lay time at remote locations.
Containers move fast and the few insiders willing to break the law for a few bucks are easily found out as the controls and oversight become more and more exact.
Also, law enforcement has discovered new ways to make sure carriers do things right. As quoted, “I worked for a company that imported an ingredient from Colombia that is used to make Jello Gelatin. Oddly enough, it was a white powder. How is that suspicious activity? We filled containers with fifty kilo bags of the stuff. We were supposed to keep the DEA and others informed with an email or fax of anything being shipped so all the documents were properly accounted for and the source known so there were no concerns. Well, if we were late with a document or lazy in reporting, a couple of DEA agents would drop by the office and would request to go through our files.
“This would tie several people up for the whole day and make the work day much harder on everyone else, so it was an effective way to keep us doing the paper work correctly and on time. It was much more effective than a simple fine which can be mitigated, delayed and paid by the company many months later for a fraction of the original amount.”
“Interfering with the work day of busy document people on a deadline was a thousand times more effective in getting them to do the reporting in the timely manner demanded,” said Frank Kilgore, former director of the Government Contracting Business Development.
Another contributor, Capt. Arne Christiansen, says “ The physical act of breaking into a container is easy. Just cut the lock and seal. But as has been stated earlier, the value of the contents varies widely, and unless you know exactly what’s inside, it is a waste of time to attempt. I worked for Sea Land, on board a container ship and at the port, it is a beehive of activity rushing around to get the right container loaded in the right spot on the vessel, a subject too involved for this answer. At sea one could break into some of the containers, but it wouldn’t make sense. The Chief Mate is aware of any special cargoes and every day a check is made on the containers, great overtime!”
But according to Marine Engineer Stephen Carry, “ If you are determined, you can break into them. All they have is a handle, a lock and a seal. All are easy enough to break, hence the security at most container ports to avoid cargoes being stolen. Don’t ship anything really valuable in a container unless it’s heavily insured and you can afford to lose it.” While most have a seal, few are locked. Those with simple padlock can be removed in no time with a decent set of bolt cutter or angle grinder. The main security is provided by the unknown. No one knows what is inside.
THE PHILIPPINE SCENARIO
Actually, we know what is obvious here in our own yard. Once you speak with the right connections, you quickly understand that there are a million ways to break into a shipping container without breaking the seals. If ever, the seals can always be resealed with the same seal number. Most of the times, however, there is no need.
Just last year and still ongoing investigation, drugs allegedly worth almost PhP 7.6 billion, came concealed in five steel cylinders mixed with kitchenware, light bulbs and apparel in a cargo container, as reported by SunStar.
No wonder drugs still proliferate, according to Jarius Bondoc of Philstar. “Despite seven million police tokhangs on known addicts and pushers and 2 million surrenders, despite 45,000 drug raids and buy busts, 55,000 arrests and 4,500 gory slayings, despite the discovery and dismantling of 11 large shabu laboratories nationwide and the quintupling of street prices in the past year, dozens of druggies still are reported everyday. They have steady supplies of the stuff, from China, whisked in gigantic quantities past the notoriously crooked, inept Customs.
That practically answers the question “Are shipping containers impossible to break into?”. Here, there is no need. Containers come and go, first in first out. If those drugs that were concealed into 5 cylinders with other products such kitchenware, bulbs and clothes were already intercepted outside in a supposedly bonded warehouse, worth to contain 604 kilos of shabu worth PhP 7 billion, was allegedly only one fourth of the lot, then the other three fourths or around 18 cylinders of shabu has since been unaccounted and presumed dispersed into the city and nearby areas. This 18 cylinders could be worth Php 24 billion in the market, as consummated sales. WOW!
No wonder, it is impossible to break into the cargo containers shipped to the Philippines.