HONG KONG—Chinese road haulage companies are in despair over a wave of armed robberies of valuable goods worth millions of dollars as they are transported across the country's vast network of expressways.
The head of the Youyi Logistics Co. based in Fuyang city, in the eastern province of Anhui, said his company had suffered losses of around one million yuan (U.S. $146,000) from highway robbery over two months.
"It is really a very serious problem," said the Youyi executive, surnamed Liu.
He said many logistics companies have been robbed in the area around Shaoguan, in the northern part of Guangdong province, by people wielding broadswords and other weapons, and that the drivers pretend that nothing happened in the hope of escaping with their lives.
"Those people would kill you if you tried to argue with them," Liu said.
"I don't think the drivers dare to say anything. All they can do is leave."
Local media reports say the problem is also rampant on the Heyuan and Huizhou sections of the expressway linking Guangdong to neighboring Jiangxi province.
They put the estimated losses from highway robberies on the Guangdong-Jiangxi expressway and the Beijing-to-Zhuhai expressway at more than 100 million yuan (U.S. $14.6 million) in the last two years.
"Between March 1 and May 1, I had a million yuan's worth of goods stolen. It's because of the amount of medicines being shipped out of Guangzhou to the rest of China. The problem is particularly bad on the Guangzhou to Hunan section of the highway," Liu added.
Top executives from more than 30 transportation companies have warned that some of their number in Shenzhen would be forced out of business if the authorities don't put a stop to the robberies.
The boss of a Guangzhou-based logistics company surnamed Zhang said the situation is particularly bad in the case of medicines and garments being shipped out of Guangzhou.
"There are some medicines we have here that we are no longer shipping, because we don't dare to ship them," he said.
Among the most popular loads to attract robbers are medicines manufactured in southern Guangdong province and shipped to the rest of the country by road, especially medication for type 2 diabetes, according to industry sources.
Youyi's Liu said such medications are readily available in shops in Shaoguan city.
"There are signs up advertising the sale [of these medicines]," Liu said.
"The price of a case of this medicine is now more than 3,000 yuan....It is very high, so it's very easy to sell them."
And the head of the Huachuan Logistics Co., surnamed Shen, said robbers had stolen one load from his company in the road to Heyuan, also in Guangdong province.
"It has happened in Guangdong, in Heyuan," Shen said. "Anything we send out there will get stolen."
"We have had loads worth hundreds of thousands of yuan stolen, a million yuan's worth of goods stolen. Altogether we have sustained losses of three million yuan," he said.
"It's pointless [to call the police]," he said. "I can't even claim it on my insurance. What good will it do to call the police?"
Many logistics companies are uninsured, so the robberies are straining their relationships with their clients.
"The customers don't insure the loads. And who has the money to pay those premiums?" a logistics company executive surnamed Cheng said.
"We only make a few hundred yuan per load, and insurance costs a few thousand yuan. The goods themselves are only worth a few million, and the insurance is three or four thousand."
"No one wants to pay the premium. So all you can do is hand it over to the judicial authorities to take care of, and say that it wasn't stolen by you, but by some other people."
Earlier this month, police in Anhui said they had arrested a gang of highway robbers who were operating on expressways across five provinces, seizing loads worth tens of millions of yuan, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.