Sunday, October 28, 2012

Road Haulage or Rail Freight? Security Debate as Anti Tank Weapons Stolen

Questions to be Answered as Potentially Lethal Consignment Goes Missing
Shipping News Feature

UK – The case this week of anti tank weapons being stolen from a consignment en route from Longtown, Cumbria to Didcot in Oxfordshire this week raise an old question with regard to the security of intermodal shipments in the rail freight versus road haulage debate. Whilst we are constantly bombarded with environmental arguments as to why the tracks outperform the highway the question of ensuring cargo arrives intact at it destination is nowadays hardly mentioned.

The latest case saw anti tank mines, as used in Afghanistan, vanish from a freight wagon leaving the assumption they had been removed whilst the train was stationary in Warrington, Cheshire. The grounds for conclusion are simply that of the ten packages, each containing four separate plastic cases, which were removed from the train, seven were later found at Folley Lane on a rail track close to the Warrington stop.

This means of course that somewhere are twelve anti tank weapons at large and despite a Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement that the munitions are only dangerous ‘if tampered with’ the consequences of them being held in inexperienced, or worse still politically malignant, hands gives pause for thought as to the method of transport used.

Whilst security on freight trains is generally accepted as good this obviously doesn’t apply with cargo which can be specifically targeted when, as is often the case, trucks are laid up in relatively remote sidings during busy periods of passenger travel, the same lines being utilised for both transport types.

Similarly the compulsory breaks essential to ensure lorry drivers comply with labour and safety laws will always mean that truck stops need to be made and therefore to an extent security will always be compromised to some degree. What is evident in this particular case is that, presumably for the sake of economy, insufficient steps were taken to ensure safe arrival of the whole cargo.

With most shipments of things as delicate as arms the best form of security is silence, nobody outside the circle of commercial interests knows the time and method of transport but this simply doesn’t work when the cargo, as in this latest case, is potentially lethal. Fortunately it appears that, although these munitions have fallen into the wrong hands, there was no immediate and direct terrorist threat but of this there is no guarantee.

Doubtless the shipper of the munitions was using what was for them a tried, tested and trusted method to move their goods but this case demonstrates that when dealing with what is after all one of Britain’s prime export markets, the arms trade, there can be no cut corners in the modern era when there is a ready market for armaments of this type with the potential to cause enormous harm. The size of a consignment and potential for accident are of course other overriding factors in calculating if road haulage, rail wagon or indeed freight by inland waterway, is the best method but again this case clearly shows that safety and security can only be achieved by a transport forwarder ensuring security is adequate for any eventuality.

A co-ordinated investigation into the munitions theft includes the Metropolitan Police Service, British Transport Police and the MoD (owners of the armaments) and is being coordinated by the North West Counter Terrorism Unit (NWCTU) which is appealing to anyone who may have seen the outstanding items to contact police. They are described as being rectangular plastic tubes, approximately 4ft (1.2 metres) in length as shown in our photo and they were taken during the night of 24th to 25th October. In a statement issued yesterday Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney from NWCTU said:

"A number of enquiries are now being made by police officers into this theft, and our main priority is to safely recover the missing items. At this stage there is nothing to suggest the theft is terrorist-related, but due to the potential complexity of the investigation, our enquiries are being led by counter terrorism officers. We would like to appeal to any members of the public who may know the whereabouts of these items, or any persons involved in the theft of these items to contact the police immediately.

“I want to make it clear that, in their normal condition, these munitions are stable and do not pose a risk to the public. However, the materials could be hazardous if they were to be tampered with and we therefore ask that anyone who sees them or knows where they are to call the police as soon as possible."

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 0161 856 1027 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.