“Held hostage” refers to freight that is in transit, and the driver or carrier/broker is refusing to complete the delivery until their demands are met. This is a rare situation, but understandably fraught for the customer.
A freight hostage situation is different from a delay. Delays are caused by circumstances beyond control. Hostage situations are caused by a bad actor taking matters into their own hands. Freight can be held hostage by an unethical broker or carrier, or by a rogue driver.
In over 68 years in the trucking industry, we at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) have learned about hostage situations through first-hand experience and from our connections in the industry. We understand the importance of resolving these situations as quickly as possible.
After reading this article, you will be prepared for any potential freight hostage situations you may encounter. You will learn ways to resolve these situations, as well as tips for preventing them from happening in the first place.
Why Are Loads Held Hostage?
Most often, loads are held hostage because of financial issues. The entity holding the load refuses to release it until they receive additional payment for a real or perceived issue.
Some common reasons a load may be held hostage include:
- Late fees. Drivers who arrive late to their destination may be charged a late fee. This fee can be several hundred dollars, up to $1,000. This is a significant portion of the overall compensation for that load. The driver may hold the load hostage until the carrier and receiver agree to waive the late fee.
- Additional payment. Drivers or providers may hold a load hostage when they think they are not being paid fairly.
- Change in specification. If any aspect of the load changes from what was originally specified, including the type or dimensions of freight, destination or driver responsibility, the driver or provider may refuse to complete the load. If the freight is already loaded, this can become a hostage situation.
- Unpaid debts. Some providers will hold a load hostage when the shipper or receiver has not paid previous invoices. They will hold the load until all past due amounts are paid.
- Guarantee of payment. If the hostage-taker does not trust that the customer will pay for the delivery as previously agreed, they may hold the load until they receive full or partial payment up front.
Holding a load hostage should have long-term consequences for the driver or provider. It’s a desperate attempt to increase profit on one haul at the risk of future business.
What Happens When a Load Is Held Hostage?
Usually, when a load is held hostage it is unloaded at a warehouse in an unknown location, or the driver may remove all GPS devices and park the truck. Usually, the driver or a representative will contact the shipper and state their demands.
Driver Holds the Load Hostage
If the driver is holding the load, contact your broker or carrier if they haven’t already contacted you. They can serve as an intermediary between you and the driver to negotiate demands.
In this scenario, you can expect regular communication with the point of contact. They may not be able to resolve the situation right away, but you can expect them to keep you updated as discussions evolve.
When the driver is the hostage-taker, possible scenarios include the carrier or broker paying the driver demands on their own or passing that cost to you. If money is exchanging hands, you should expect to know the plan of action and how much it will cost.
Broker or Carrier Holds the Load Hostage
Sometimes, the carrier or broker is the one holding the load hostage. This is a more difficult scenario, as you may have to negotiate directly, rather than working with an intermediary.
You can decide if you will meet or refuse the demands, or you can try to negotiate a compromise or another solution. If a load is being held hostage over fees already owed (such as costs for previous shipments), the entity owing the money is still responsible for paying those fees. This may be paid as part of the negotiation for the load release.
Remember that the contract and Bill of Lading are legally binding documents. The provider’s refusal to fulfill their obligation as stated on the agreement can be grounds for legal action.
What Are the Outcomes of a Load Held Hostage?
There are several potential outcomes when a driver or provider is holding a load hostage.
- The hostage taker caves in and the load is released.
- You meet the hostage-taker’s demands and the load is released.
- The load is not released or is damaged during the negotiation.
Perishable or time-sensitive freight has an extra element of urgency to reach a resolution. Both the customer and the hostage-taker know that the clock is ticking, and they may be more motivated to come to a fast resolution.
Ideal Scenario: Load Released Without Added Costs
The best possible resolution to a load held hostage is that discussions will succeed and the hostage-taker will release the load without additional costs. The holder may realize that the short-term gain is not worth the long-term consequences of holding the load, or they may back down from their demands when threatened with legal action.
Even if the load is released without additional cost, the hostage-taker has broken the original agreement. You may be able to pursue other long-term consequences, such as terminating future contracts and leaving negative reviews.
Worst-Case Scenario: Load Lost
Sometimes negotiations fail. If all entities cannot come to a resolution, the load may not be released.
While the shipment is in transit, it legally belongs to a customer. That customer can choose to report the freight as stolen goods. Some jurisdictions may have a mandatory waiting period before they will investigate for theft, but a police report can be filed right away.
If the cargo is considered evidence, it may be held by the police department during the investigation. This can further delay recovering your freight, but if you choose to file a police report it might be unavoidable.
A police report is also likely to be required if the customer files an insurance claim to recover the cost of the freight.
- When the driver is holding the load hostage, the carrier or broker should help connect you to the claims department.
- If it’s the provider holding the load hostage, the customer will have to contact the insurance department on your own.
Of course, there are many scenarios in between the best- and worst-case. Each scenario is unique, and you may have to decide how important it is that you rescue the load.
In some cases, you may end up paying more than originally agreed. Fortunately, there are other recourses you can take after the situation is resolved.
What Happens After Hostage Freight Is Released?
Holding a load hostage has serious consequences for the hostage taker. It is a form of theft, and can be treated accordingly.
Driver Holds the Load Hostage
Drivers who hold a load hostage should be immediately terminated by their employer. Both employee and independent drivers will have the hostage situation noted on their driver profile.
While it’s common for a driver to want to avoid additional fees or conditions, the proper way to address that is with their driver manager, not by holding freight hostage. Transportation has many variables outside of the driver’s control. A reasonable driver and provider will work to find a mutually agreeable solution without jumping to the last resort.
If the driver is not terminated, consider the reputation of the carrier or broker. Do you want to work with someone who continues to use drivers who take matters into their own hands?
Carrier or Broker Holds the Load Hostage
A carrier or broker who holds loads hostage should also face consequences. This is trickier than terminating an employee. But if your load is held hostage by a company, you can take the following steps:
- Document everything. As soon and as thoroughly as possible, document everything that is happening. This can be used later for your insurance claim.
- File a police report. An official police report may be needed for future insurance claims, and it can also create a paper trail that will follow the carrier. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may also impose penalties on carriers known to hold loads hostage.
- Work with their insurance company. You are entitled to place an insurance claim to recoup the value of your freight. If the carrier or broker has a high rate of claims, their coverage will likely be dropped.
- Go public with your experience. Sharing your story with others in the industry, or on public review sites, will spread the word about an unethical company. This is one step you can make to protect future shippers from having an experience like yours.
Your first priority in a hostage situation is to get it resolved as soon as possible. But there are things you can do to try and prevent a hostage situation from happening in the first place.
How to Prevent Freight Hostage Situations
It is rare for freight to be held hostage. But even with that knowledge, there are some steps you can take to make it even less likely for your freight to be held by a driver or provider.
- Follow cargo security practices. Before turning your freight over to a new carrier, make sure you know who you are working with. A reliable transportation provider is less likely to hold loads hostage.
- Pay on time. Some loads are held hostage over missed previous payments. While this isn’t an excuse for your load to be held hostage, resolving past bills on time can stop this from happening.
- Be flexible when possible. Some drivers will take loads hostage because they are afraid they will be charged fines and fees that will cut into their profit. If you can waive late charges or make other arrangements for when and how your load can be delivered, the driver will not feel the need to take extreme measures.
Some delays are beyond the driver’s control (weather, traffic, breakdowns); in these cases especially you may want to be flexible to preserve your relationship with the driver and provider.
Again, freight hostage situations are rare. But the suggestions above can also be helpful in building your reputation as a good customer and may strengthen your relationship with your carrier or broker.
Prepare for Potential Cargo Hijacking
Hopefully, you will never encounter a freight hostage scenario. These situations are rare but impactful when they happen.
To prevent these situations, following cargo security practices, paying bills on time, and being flexible when possible can help maintain positive relationships and minimize the risk of a freight hostage scenario. These proactive measures can enhance your reputation as a responsible shipper and foster partnerships in the industry.