This is according to Garry Marshall, the CEO of the South African Express Parcel Association (SAEPA), which represents a wide range of couriers operating in the country.
Among SAEPA’s members are large and small local companies like CourierIT, DSV, Globeflight, and RAM, as well as international players such as DHL, FedEx, and UPS.
Marshall said that while there were no accurate figures available regarding robberies of couriers, anecdotal evidence from these companies suggested that the problem was on the rise.
“When I speak to our members, they reckon it is worse now than it has ever been,” Marshall said. “It has escalated over the last six months,” Marshall said.
“A lot of these are reported as armed robberies, and some of them are reported as hijackings, and I think many of them are not reported at all.”
“Part of the problem is that once you report it, the vehicle becomes a crime scene, and it may get impounded, therefore the courier can’t continue delivering,” he added.
Marshall said he suspected that there were many instances in which the smaller players, in particular, would not report the incidents.
Attacks becoming more violent
What is even more troubling about these robberies is that they have become more violent, Marshall said.
“The latest trend is that not only is there an increase in the number of events, but there is also an increase in the violence around them, that much is very noticeable,” he said.
“In many cases, they just shoot first and then help themselves [to the goods]. So it’s becoming more and more dangerous,” Marshall stated.
Marshall said that one of the obvious reasons couriers were being targeted was that they were highly visible within the public space, making them soft targets for opportunistic thieves.
These criminals are aware that couriers generally carry items of high value.
“They tend to carry high-value commodities, many of which are attractive and able to be sold very easily, there is a ready market for them,” Marshall stated.
“We carry a lot of electronics, and those tend to be very high risk, and very attractive [to robbers],” Marshall said.
In addition, Marshall said that there were likely major syndicates involved in these robberies, many of which used information gained from insiders in courier companies.
In such instances, SAEPA had found that employees were often threatened to keep quiet by the criminals.
A broader problem
Marshall said that the problem correlated with an increase in other high-visibility crimes like crash-in-transit and jewellery store robberies across the country.
“We don’t see this as courier-industry specific, we see it as a major national problem,” he stated.
He explained that courier companies were incurring major costs on all kinds of security mechanisms and controls to protect their facilities, assets, and employees.
“Sometimes when I visit our members it is like getting through Fort Knox just to get into their places,” Marshall stated.
Expenses often include costs of escort vehicles, camera systems, vehicle tracking systems, control centres, helicopters, and follow-up vehicles.
Marshall said unfortunately these costs tend to get built into courier prices, so the public will pay for it at the end of the day.
He added that courier companies were doing all they possibly could in co-operation with the police on the ground, but emphasised that this crime needs to be tackled at the highest level.
“What we would like to see is some kind of joint task force between business and the government to try and eradicate this problem,” Marshall said.