by Tony Dobson

The fleet managers guide to getting hijacked

Yes the title is tongue-in-cheek, but I will definitely be sharing some tips on how to get hijacked.


Yes the title is tongue-in-cheek, but I will definitely be sharing some tips on how to get hijacked. Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed a lot of hijackings that could have been avoided if some basic precautions had been followed.

As luck would have it, I have the tools to assist everybody in the art of getting hijacked.

I attended a scene a couple of weeks ago where a timber transporter had been hijacked, a call was put out that the driver had been taken hostage and the truck, a UD80 had been taken by an unknown number of men. As with every recovery, the police were notified and various ground crews dispatched.

When the ground crew arrived on the scene the truck was there but the driver was being held. It turns out that the driver had stopped along the road to give some people a lift. Innocent as it seems, the good samaritan driver thought it would be a good idea to assist the stranded travellers by offering a lift. This didn’t turn out as he had expected. Needless to say, after some negotiations and debating the driver was released. Now this wasn’t a hijacking per se but it could have cost the owner of the vehicle a lot more than he bargained for.

At another incident in the north of Pretoria, a driver of a small delivery vehicle decided to leave the vehicle idling while he quickly ran into a spaza shop to get something to eat. When he arrived back to where the truck “was”, he quickly realised that the vehicle had been taken.

The few instances mentioned above relate to driver carelessness that has cost fleet owners dearly.

It is important to note that not all instances are due to driver neglect or stupidity, but also to neglect by fleet manager or route planners. Because we want to ensure that our fleet arrives at destinations in the shortest amount of time we insist that the drivers travel on routes that are notorious for hijackings. One of these routes is the famous N3 Vosloorus stretch of road just past the 1 Stop towards Johannesburg.

This route has seen more trucks taken than in a kindergarten lolly scramble. The various methods used by these criminal elements include putting obstacles on the road which force the trucks to slow down enough for the hijackers to jump at the passenger door and gain access. The drivers are tied up and dropped off in remote areas and the tracking device is jammed. The trucks are driven to wherever they need to go, cargo offloaded and the trailer abandoned if not taken and sold across the border. The horse units are then moved to alternative areas and prepared to be taken across the border or stripped out for the engine components.

An instance of this was when I was alerted to a hijacking of a popular dairy companies UD truck taken in Edenvale Gauteng. The trucks tracking unit was jammed and swiftly removed. Every available resource was employed to get to the area as quickly as possible to secure the truck. This didn’t help at all. After a number of hours it was decided to call off the search. A couple of days later an informant let me know that the truck had been taken across the southern border into Mozambique, 24 hours after it had been hijacked. I immediately contacted Mbazwane SAPS and I was told that the vehicle had been recovered across the border by a joint team of Mozambican Military and SAPS members. Like a scene from a movie, the Captain described the events that had transpired.

“We were across the border following a trail that we had seen; suddenly out of nowhere at 1am we saw lights coming through the bush. I jumped out of the way and saw the door opening. The driver jumped out and ran while the truck was driving. I jumped in and managed to drive the truck back across the border to Mbazwane.” (This story has been modified for the sensitive reader.).

When we went to take the vehicle back from the SAPS safeguarding unit we realised that the specific vehicle was not taken for its stock content. This was very evident by the smell coming from the back of the refrigerated unit that was and had been off for nearly a week. The SAPS officer wanted to show us that the stock was still intact by opening the back doors. I told him that it was really ok and he didn’t have to as I believed him.

The truck was delivered back to the dairy company and was back on the road within days of delivery, after the stock had been removed. When we spoke to the driver of the truck regarding the circumstances around the hijacking he mentioned that he had been distracted and the next thing he knew the hijackers were in the vehicle.

Distraction seems to be a major contributing factor for most drivers nowadays. This was very evident while I was en route to Upington for a meeting. I noticed at least seven trucks that had pulled over to give female hitchhikers a lift. Look, I am not naive at all and I know that these hitchers are definitely not lift seekers. This is extremely dangerous for fleet owners as this is when your truck and freight is at its most vulnerable. While the driver is sampling the offerings of the hitcher, the offending hijackers gain access to the truck’s cab and take control of your assets.

So how do you ensure that your trucks and vehicles are hijacked? Here is how, in a few easy steps.

  • Ensure that you pick up hitchhikers.
  • Drive the high-risk routes and slow down or stop for obstacles in the road.
  • Leave the vehicle running and go and get some lunch.
  • BE extra distracted while on your delivery run.
  • And be part of a syndicate of drivers that are put into work places to steal the trucks.

The last point brings me to the most disturbing one of all. Fleet owners don’t vet their staff properly. They employ foreign staff with little or no knowledge of their background or even traceable references. Far too often I hear about a driver from Zim or Tanzania being employed because he needed a job. Well, if you are not going to do a background check or phone a few references then don’t complain when he makes off with the brand new freightliner and a R1.3 million rand trailer.

Employing a driver should be no different from employing a person applying for a job working in an office. Ask for traceable references and employment history, if they don’t have that they don’t have a job. It’s as easy as that. Yes, I do understand the frustration of trying to fill the seats and getting the freight to its destination, but that should also be your foremost goal. GETTING THE FREIGHT TO ITS DESTINATION.

The serious side of this is that the following need to be drummed into your driver’s heads, it should be second nature:

  • Do not under any circumstances stop and pick up hitchhikers.
  • Work out the route and allow some time for detours around the hotspots.
  • DO not stop and leave the vehicle running if you need to get food. Lock up and take the keys with you.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Be a little extra cautious when in high risk areas. Always expect to be hijacked and make sure you don’t leave yourself open to becoming a victim.
  • Urges need to be taken care of at home and not in the truck. SIES.

Fleet managers need to work on the basics with their staff to ensure that they don’t put themselves and the assets at risk. Tool box talks should be essential and the drivers should be informed of the number of hijackings taking place and where they are. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for fleet owners to start putting cameras in the cabs and overlooking the freight. This would definitely curb some of the shenanigans that take place on the road.

Please feel free to contact me through the editor if you need any more information or need assistance in getting drivers up to speed on what’s happening.

As always safe travels,

Tony Dobson, security specialist

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