Road transporters focus on suspicious shipments

Customs NL and bona fide businesses are collaborating more effectively in order to track and stop clandestine goods in trailers and warehouses.

A transport business that is acting in good faith could nevertheless be carrying or storing clandestine goods in a trailer or warehouse. Customs NL and bona fide businesses are collaborating more effectively in order to track and stop such shipments. Keeping an eye out for suspicious cargoes can save transporters a great deal of trouble.

Most fraudulent market players seem to be trustworthy on paper: they are registered at the Chamber of Commerce, they have a balance sheet and operate what appear acceptable business activities. For logistics service providers, it is therefore very hard to figure out whether a customer is engaging in questionable practices. It is primarily groupage transporters, who deliver the most diverse cargoes from A to B, who thus run the risk of unwittingly dealing in illegal goods. And this can lead to a range of consequences. If a lorry is found to contain drugs or cigarettes or drink for which excise duties have not been paid, this could easily lead to a severely damaged reputation. And if this occurs in the UK, for example, there is also a good chance that every truck that rolls off the ferry in Dover will be subjected to lengthy checks by the British authorities.

Secure situation
In order to protect regular businesses from this type of situation, and sharpen up its own supervision, Dutch Customs have come up with a new approach. Logistics service providers who are offered a cargo which they do not entirely trust, can now call a reporting line 24/7, on a national telephone number. “The report is then transferred to a coordinator in the relevant customs region”, explains customs officer Edwin Wolthof (left in the photo), himself coordinator in the Nijmegen customs region. “They will then request all of the underlying freight documents, by e-mail, for a quick check. If this administrative analysis gives rise to further investigations, the transporter can indicate where and when he would like a physical check to take place. The coordinator attends with some armed colleagues and also, possibly, a sniffer dog. This method is ideal for the reporting company. On the one hand, the outside world wouldn’t notice anything suspicious about Customs being on the site of a transporter. On the other hand, the presence of armed officers immediately creates a more or less secure situation should there turn out to be a high value cargo of narcotics or illegal excisable goods. Furthermore, we have short lines of communication with the National Police Unit for the necessary back up.”

If Customs finds illegal cigarettes or drink, the FIOD (Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service) will be informed. If it involves small quantities, the service can seize the goods and take care of further processing. If it involves substantial volumes of narcotics or weapons, the National Police Unit will take the case on and carry out further investigations. All of this will take place calmly and without causing too much fuss.

Dope smoke
The Customs authorities are currently working on implementing this new working method. In all regions, contact persons for businesses are being appointed and information is being provided to local businesses in order to highlight the benefits of the new approach. One transporter that has had close ties to the service for some time is the multinational Mainfreight/Wim Bosman Group. Maarten de Graauw (right in the photo), risk manager for the Bosman branch in ’s-Heerenberg, explains why. “A few years ago, we smelt the scent of cannabis in our crossdock. We don’t want to be associated with any shady practices so we informed Customs right away. As a result, we came into contact with Edwin. He visited us with a few customs officers and a drugs dog. They identified that soft drugs had been on the premises but were unable to actually find them. Nevertheless, this initial experience was so positive that we intensified our collaboration. Since then, we often interact about shipments that just don’t feel right; in these circumstances, one call to Edwin is enough. Reports from us have led to the discovery of substantial quantities of illegal cigarettes. From time to time, we also carry out preventative activities with Customs within our company. We use a scanner or sniffer dog to check our goods.”

“Besides this we just make sure we are very cooperative about other services and inspections”, adds De Graauw. “We involve the Royal Marechaussee as standard if we find traces of stowaways who have hitched an illegal lift in one of our trailers. We see these authorities as an ally in the fight against people who do their best to abuse our services and damage our good name. The better our tips, the greater the chance of perpetrators being caught.”

Extra eyes and ears
“The knife cuts both ways”, explains De Graauw further. “On the one hand, we work with the government to keep our business processes honest and lawful; this is a client requirement too. On the other hand, we are able to offer Customs extra eyes and ears when it comes to road transport. We have hundreds of drivers on the roads and realise just how important they are in this context. There is an internal procedure for ensuring they are aware of all the risk indicators, such as being led to an alternative loading/unloading location. Are there really expensive cars in the vicinity? Does the client want to pay cash? We have noticed that our truckers are increasingly aware of this type of thing. In my department, we receive reports more and more frequently. We assess these alongside observations from our planning and financial administration and draw our own conclusions. If there are genuine doubts, we don’t get involved. Or we take a batch and then have it checked at a later date. This gives us more time to make an informed decision.”

‘Green flow’
Wolthof has also noticed an increasing awareness, not only at Bosman. “Companies often call us to verify orders. They are very anxious about fraud and if they have suspicions about a client, they won’t do business with them. Customs obviously welcomes these developments. We have also seen the number of seizures of clandestine goods from businesses decreasing.”
It is tricky, however, that many logistics service providers outsource work to colleagues. Wolthof adds: “And we don’t know if they apply the same strict standards or are perhaps less choosy about their clients. The next logical step would therefore be to focus our attention on the subcontracted transporters. This would allow us to create a so-called ‘green flow’ of exclusively reliable links in the chain. And further eliminate the part of the transport chain that is not reliable.”

Do you want to know more about this new form of cooperation? Send an e-mail to

Do you want to report a suspicious cargo? Call Dutch Customs’ reporting line (0031 – 88 15 14 444).

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