Many criminal groups in cahoots with container truck drivers in Vietnam are stealing parts of the cargo during transportation, businesses say.
The practice started at least in 2007 and has inflicted heavy losses and earned Vietnam's export sector a bad name, but businesses are keeping silent to protect their names.
As export values have increased this year, so has the crime.
A representative from D.N.F Company in the southern province of Dong Nai said that the company in June exported 700 barrels of cashew to India, but when the cargo arrived this month, its partner sent a complaint that nearly 600 barrels, worth more than US$102,000, were missing from the container.
"The thing is, the seal on the container is undamaged, and the loss was only discovered when the cargo was opened," the representative said.
Statistics from Vietnam Cashew Association (VINACAS) show that container thieves since 2007 have caused losses worth nearly $2 million.
This does not include small cases not reported by the businesses that didn't want their prestige hurt.
Nguyen Duc Thanh, Vice Chairman of the association, said that material imports have also been stolen.
A couple of cases have been busted by the authorities recently but they were just the tip of the iceberg, he said.
Vu Thai Son, president of a cashew firm, said that his company late last year exported two containers of cashews to Thailand but the cargo disappeared upon arrival, and the container seals were still there.
Until now, the company has not found out who stole its cargo, Son said.
The cargo transport firm uses GPS and thus has detected that the truck carrying the containers stopped for a long time at a place in District 12, HCMC, where the driver is suspected to have the cargo taken out of the containers.
But the driver, who had used a fake resume, had quit his job after the robbery.
"To keep our business prestige, we had to compensate our customers with nearly $130,000," Son said.
Many businesses have tried to prevent the thieves by having special guards accompany the containers all the way.
VINACAS recently sent a statement asking its members to hire people to follow the containers from their factories to the ports and to sign transport contracts only with reliable firms who agree to compensate if the cargo is lost.
Rubber, seafood and coffee exporters are also victims of the container robbers.
The head of a rubber company in the central region, who did not want to be named, said that more than half the rubber export shipments are "touched" by the robbers, but there's nothing the businesses can do.
"Anyway, if we make a fuss, the name of our companies would be affected, so we just keep silent."
A statement from Vietnam Rubber Association said that the thieves have deployed clever and complicated ways, and the prestige of transportation companies has also been affected.
The victims of container thieves have also blamed a number of businesses in their own industry that are willing to buy the stolen cargo at cheap prices.
According to the victims, the thieves tend to steal a big amount of the cargo at a time and they have no way to consume it except for selling it to firms engaged in the same business.