Cargo theft on Northern Corridor still major threat to regional trade


Trucks parked by the roadside in Kikopey, Gilgil. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Northern Corridor is becoming an unattractive route for transporters due to cargo thefts along the highway.

The Coast security committee said the cargo thefts and fuel siphoning from trucks plying Mombasa-Nairobi highway and the Northern Corridor are threatening the regional trade, warning that stern action would be taken against the culprits.

The latest theft incident was on August 16, when GSU and detectives from Mombasa County seized goods suspected to have been stolen on transit. The goods were impounded after police officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, Central Police Station and GSU conducted a joint operation at Mikindani and Bangladesh areas.

“Fertiliser suspected to have been stolen while on transit was recovered,” read a police report.

However, according to the Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) chief executive Dennis Ombok, cases of stolen transit goods on the road have reduced.

“This is due to the introduction of the Northern Corridor Transit Patrol Unit (NCTPU) some years back. Contacts of the patrol police officers in each station have been shared to all truck drivers and owners,” he said.

“Furthermore tracking devises installed in the trucks have played a very big role in the reduction of diversion of cargo.”

In 2016 the NCTPU, a special police unit constituted to combat cargo theft and general crime along the Northern Corridor, began its operations. The unit, which operates between Mombasa and Busia, has been divided into 10 sectors, each headed by a superintendent of police.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had directed that a joint unit be constituted to oversee security of cargo on transit. The then Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet deployed 200 police officers to the unit.

In 2016, theft cases were so rampant that some transporters rerouted to Tanzania.

Coast Regional Police Commander Marcus Ochola told Shipping this week theft incidents are hurting Kenya’s stature as a transit hub.

“We have heard of cases of stolen goods on transit, especially trucks ferrying cargo from the Port of Mombasa to Uganda, and other neighbouring countries. This crime should stop, it is destroying our image as a country,” Mr Ochola said.

The theft cases, he said is detrimental to smooth flow of trade in the region while criminal acts such as siphoning of fuel pose dangers to human lives.

“Siphoning fuel is not only a criminality but it is dangerous and can cause disasters,” Mr Ochola said.

“The theft of goods is also a threat to trade flows and economic integration in the East and Central African region.”

Mr Ochola said most of the cargo thefts occur when drivers stop by the side of the road for a break or to sleep.

Some drivers said the criminals involved in the racket often drug them.

“The crimes happen when truck drivers are drugged by criminals during stopovers either for food or rest. Many long distance truck drivers have been drugged along the highway,” said Kazungu Juma, a truck driver.

The Northern Corridor connects Kenya from the Port of Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

“Police officers along this route must ensure safety of cargo. Long distance truck drivers must equally be aware of their surroundings. We must deal with this crime,” Mr Kazungu said.

Last month, the regional police commandant held meetings with stakeholders and residents in Maji ya Chumvi Township along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway urging them to help police in dealing with the crime.

“Cargo worth millions of shillings is stolen along this trade route from trucks as drivers make stopovers. This crime should stop. Transporters from neighbouring countries are complaining that Kenyans are stealing their goods imported through the Port of Mombasa,”Mr Ochola said.

He warned that the crime is scaring away investors including importers and transporters.

Police records indicate that cargo and vehicle thefts, drugging and even loss of lives have been reported over the last few years.