West Africa: bagged cargo shortages due to pilferage

West of England Club has said that it continued to receive frequent shortage claims involving bagged food cargoes being discharged in West African ports. Rice and sugar were those most commonly affected.

The club said that food was attractive to pilferers as it was easy to remove from a vessel and was easy to sell.

Bags were frequently seen to be torn due to accidental or, more commonly, deliberate rough handling:

Bags often weighed up to 50kg and were consequentially difficult to manually handle. Stevedores therefore make up sling loads in the cargo hold wings which are then dragged over the top layers of the stow to the square of the hatch, resulting in damage to and spillage from the bags.

Shore winchmen could deliberately cause slung bags to rupture by hitting the load against the hatch coamings when lifting from the cargo holds.

Bags were also sometimes deliberately slit or holed by the stevedores, using hidden blades / knives, or by the use of stevedores’ / dockers’ hooks.

The resulting spillage was then collected by stevedores to fill small containers and bags, which they then attempt to smuggle ashore at the end of the day’s work.

West of England said that actions that owners and their Masters could take to help reduce pilferage of bagged food cargoes included the following:

·       Assign a crew member to observe operations – one per each working hatch, so far as manning and compliance with hours of rest regulations allow.

·       The duty deck officer should maintain a roving patrol of the cargo operations, visiting each working hold frequently.

·       Anyone seen inside a cargo hold, or on deck who does not appear to be a stevedore should be asked to leave.

·       If theft is observed – tell them to stop and inform the stevedore foreman.

·       If it can be done discretely, take photographic evidence. Overt photography should be avoided to prevent the stevedores becoming agitated.

·       Issue Notes of Protest to all concerned parties.

·       Place charterers on notice.

·       Employ reliable private security guards, dogs can also be a useful deterrent. Local correspondents will be able to recommend reliable service providers.

·       Instruct a protective surveyor to monitor operations.

·       Shut and secure all cargo spaces not being worked.

The Club said that if pilferage begin to escalate out of control the vessel could threaten to close the hatch covers and suspend cargo operations until all parties agreed an appropriate course of action.

“However, such a step should not be taken lightly and both owners and the local Club correspondent should be consulted first”, the Club said.

If it was necessary to halt cargo operations due to pilferage, the Club said that stoppage should be kept to an absolute minimum as the port authority might order the vessel to vacate the berth if there were other vessels waiting to discharge. They might also impose a fine for occupying a berth while idle.