Cyprus, DR Congo and Ghana top destinations for stolen cars out of UK ports

  • Stolen vehicles worth £2.96 million have been located at three UK ports so far in 2021 – a 112 per cent increase on 2020
  • By end of September 2021, 72 stolen vehicles were recovered by NaVCIS Ports officers in Felixstowe, Tilbury and Southampton, a rise of 14 per cent compared to the whole of 2020
  • Range Rover made up nearly two fifths (38 per cent) of all stolen cars identified Insight from convicted car thieves suggests a rise in cars stolen to order

New research1 from Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals Cyprus was the most commonly identified destination for stolen cars out of three UK ports in 2020. Figures from three ports managed by the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), Felixstowe, Tilbury and Southampton, found 37 per cent of identified stolen cars were destinated for Cyprus. A fifth (19 per cent) were destined for the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Ghana (11 per cent) and the UAE (six per cent) were other common destinations.

In the first nine months of 2021, £2.96 million worth of stolen vehicles were successfully identified by NaVCIS officers at ports. This is a 112 per cent increase on the value stolen in 2020 (£1.39 million).

The same timeframe saw a 14 per cent increase in the number of stolen vehicles identified at the three ports. In 2020, 63 vehicles were successfully identified as stolen by NaVCIS ports officers, rising to 72 in the first nine months of 2021. This means the average value of vehicles stolen has nearly doubled in less than 12 months, from £22,000 per vehicle in 2020 to £41,000 per vehicle in 2021.

Range Rover were the top car make identified at NaVCIS ports in 2020, making up nearly two fifths (38 per cent) of all stolen cars identified there. Ford (10 per cent), Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover (all at eight per cent) make up the top five.

Insight from convicted car thieves currently serving a custodial sentence2 suggests that many cars are stolen to order. For example, one convicted car thief said: “People order cars, so you know what you're going out for that night. You go out and get that specific car, van, whatever it is… Half the time I'll already know where there is one, because I know that much, so I can go straight to them”.

Lorraine Price, Head of Direct Line Motor Insurance, commented: “These figures point to a worrying rise in cars being stolen to order and then shipped out to other countries, and these are just the cars we know about. The increase in the average value of these vehicles, and the popularity of prestige makes like Range Rover, suggests criminals are becoming more sophisticated by targeting higher end cars.

“Our research among convicted car thieves supports this theory and suggests that car theft may not be as much an opportunistic crime but a high reward one, with criminals able to target specific, prestige cars. Many car thieves are sophisticated in their approach but are put off by factors such as well-lit areas, gravel driveways and CCTV. Simply ensuring cars are double locked, and there are no valuables left in them is often enough, as would-be thieves will always try for easy targets first.”

While these figures provide just one snapshot of vehicles stolen to be shipped abroad, separate data from the NaVCIS’ annual cargo crime report found the NaVCIS received 4,468 notifications of HGV, Freight and Cargo crimes in 2020, approximately 12 every day and an increase of five per cent from 2019. The police force areas to record the highest number of cargo offences in 2020 were Essex Police (335), Thames Valley Police (327), Kent Police (284), South Yorkshire Police (276) and Bedfordshire Police (255). Together, these forces accounted for a third of all reported thefts.

The Metropolitan Police Service3 recommends motorists follow these steps to protect their car:

1.     Always lock your vehicle, even when filling up or parked on your drive. If your wing mirrors fold in automatically when locked, always check these as criminal gangs are looking for vehicles with wing mirrors out because it is clear the vehicle has been left unlocked.

2.     Keep the keys safe, out of view when at home and away from your front door. It’s not uncommon for car keys to be stolen from inside your home by thieves fishing for them with a stick and hook. When not in use, keep your electronic car key in a security pouch to prevent it being scanned by thieves.

3.     Be aware of car jackers. In traffic, drive with the doors locked and when queuing leave enough space in front of your vehicle to enable you to get out of a tight spot.

4.     Park responsibly by avoiding dark and secluded areas. It’s worth an extra five- or 10-minute walk if it means your vehicle is safe. If possible, try and park in illuminated and staffed car parks or those with a Park Mark safer parking award.

5.     Watch out for illegal tow trucks as thieves often attempt to lift vehicles from the street. If you see a towaway crew acting suspiciously then report it immediately.

6.     Fit good in-car security locks and bear in mind that built-in steering locks aren’t thief proof. Fitting a Sold Secure steering wheel, gear lever or clutch pedal security device can give added protection.

7.     Double check electronic locking manually before walking away as electronic devices can be used to jam the electronic signal from your key fob to lock your vehicle.

8.     Before owning, check for cloning. When buying a vehicle, always check the DVLA V5 form and make sure the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the vehicle is the same as on the document.

9.     Secure your port. Many modern vehicles are fitted with engine management diagnostic ports, which can unlock and start your vehicle. If your vehicle has this type of port, consider fitting a lockable cover.


Notes to Editors

1  FOIA request made to National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service in October 2021. Data provided for 2020 and 2021 to end of September.

2  Responses taken from 12 convicted car thieves currently serving a custodial sentence in the UK


For further information please contact:

Simon Henrick 
Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651 831 668
Email: [email protected]

Direct Line

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