Monday, June 20, 2011

Theft syndicates skirting high-voltage dangers in substations and steal gates instead

TNB substation

TNB substation

OPEN TO DANGER: TNB KL North manager A. Sivanas showing an exposed fuse box at a substation

Their greed knows no bounds. The same, unfortunately, applies to their ingenuity.

Scrap metal syndicates, for so long having targeted copper wires within Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) substations to be resold to scrap metal dealers, appear to have found a novel way to bypass the threat of electrocution by thousands of volts of electricity.

Their solution? Forget the copper wires and steal the substation's heavy iron gates instead!

This has emerged as the latest modus operandi employed by these syndicates who have decided to forgo theft of copper wires in favour of the much easier targets.

The last three months have seen TNB substations hit by a wave of ransacks by these syndicates.

They have caused grave concern in TNB, who have incurred losses running into the millions due to the syndicates' acts.

The incidences have left TNB with little choice but to seek a meeting with acting Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Amar Singh Ishar Singh to stave off the crime wave.

This month alone, no less than 65 cases of property theft have occurred at the substations, with the theft of the metal gates accounting for 50 cases alone.

They occur mostly in the western part of the city, spanning areas such as the Sungai Buloh industrial park, Bandar Sri Damansara and Damansara itself.

It is learnt on average, about 200 thefts occured at substations in KL.

TNB has 6,176 substations in the city and they are administratively divided into North KL, Central KL, South KL and West KL.

TNB officials, whose resources are already stretched, are at a loss on how to cope with the thefts.

"Previously, we only had to contend with people breaking into the substations and stripping the copper wiring. But now, even the gates aren't spared," said a senior official.

It is learnt each iron gate costs about RM3,000. The 50 stolen this month has racked up losses of almost RM150,000.

Gates gone in five minutes

For the thieves, the risk involved is a no-brainer. While copper fetches a price of RM27 per kilogram at scrap metal dealers, iron provides an even bigger payoff at a whopping RM140 per kg.

The official said the syndicate appeared to have taken the easy way out to make a fast buck, adding by stealing the gates, they got an even bigger payday, minus the risk of electrocution.

"Our resources are stretched. Our supervisors carry out inspections at each substation. But in many cases, one substation could be fine one day and be totally stripped of its gates when the supervisor returns the next day."

TNB's investigations have shown the syndicates are able to work quickly, possessing the ability to dismantle the heavy iron gates within five minutes.

It is believed a flatbed truck or lorry is used to cart away the gates once dismantled.

“There have been instances where members of the public had spotted the thieves dismantling the gates at substations and alerted us.

"Despite the fact it only took us minutes to reach the substations, it was long enough for them to escape with their loot,” said the offiical.

Scrap metal dealers, meanwhile, have been quick to deny any complicity in the matter.

The Malaysian Indian Metal Traders Association, while admitting there is little in the way of verifying whether the goods sold are stolen property, maintained police spot checks at scrapyards were a good way to keep dealers in line.

THE Malaysian Indian Metal Traders Association (MIMTA) wants to have a dialogue with Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) to ensure that items stolen from substations do not fall into the hands of its members.

The association' s secretary-general, R.A. Param, told The Malay Mail yesterday it hoped to work out a plan with TNB to tackle the problem of the disposal of stolen items by scrap metal syndicates.

Commenting on the increasing number of thefts of metal gates at TNB substations over the past three months, Param said there were no sure-fire measures to determine if items that scrap metal dealers bought were stolen or not.

He said there were 800 to 1,000 registered scrap metal members nationwide "and possibly thousands more unregistered and practising illegally".

Param said the police carried out spot checks at scrapyards to prevent the transaction of stolen items.

"Besides assisting dealers in getting their operating licences, we advise them to do business according to the law and never to buy stolen goods.

"The government has also set strict regulations on the scrap metal business and one has to comply with the rules."

Asked if there were those who did business with the syndicates, he said: "There may be one or two who will have their licences revoked and charged in court.''

Scrap metal dealers said the theft of metal parts was rampant because they fetched high prices.

Said dealer C. Vijaya: "The most sought-after item is metal ... you can sell metal for RM140 a kg, followed by brass (RM40 a kg), copper (RM27 a kg) and aluminium (RM4.90 a kg) .

"I could make RM4,200 in a week by selling metal alone. If I sell brass, I can earn about RM800 a week, and RM200 a week from copper."

He said he also sold used car batteries for RM100 for every 60kg.

On safety measures, Vijaya said the dealers made it a point to keep records of those who sold them parts, including their MyKad numbers, vehicle registration numbers and business addresses.

"These are the records we present to the police when they visit our businesses twice a month to ensure that dealers and traders were genuine."

Vijaya also said the image of the scrap metal dealers was "not too great" at the moment.

"We are sometimes looked upon as 'thieves'. Many illegal 'scrappers' are drug abusers who bring us, the sincere ones, a bad name."

Another problem the dealers faced was limited space.

"No one wants to rent out their premises to scrap metal dealers for fear of being summoned by the local councils. The government has urged us to operate on industrial land but we can't afford it," Vijaya said.

"We are seeking government intervention to operate on commercial land, where rent is cheaper, and we could certainly earn more by being closer to the commercial outlets.

"All we need is for the government to grant us commercial licences."
Thieves must have knowledge, says site supervisor

EXPERT knowledge and skills are necessary for syndicates to steal parts from Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) substations.

"At least one member of the syndicate must know how electricity works to avoid electrocution," said a TNB site supervisor who preferred anonymity.

"He must also know how switches work and how to shut them down before taking components like transformers, copper wires, cables, switches and fire protection systems."

The site supervisor said there is one main substation in each housing area.

"The syndicate would have to shut down the main substation if they also intend to steal from a secondary substation," he said.

"An expert in such syndicates could have worked for electrical engineering construction companies which have carried out jobs for TNB and have access to blueprints of the substation."

He also did not discount the possibility such an expert could have been a former or disgruntled staff of TNB.
TNB to meet city police

WITH losses running into the millions because of thefts at its substations, TNB has turned to the police for help on how to stop the syndicates.

A TNB official said a meeting would be held with acting Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Amar Singh Ishar Singh on July 4 to address the issue.

“We need the police's help as our staff patrols alone are not enough to keep the syndicates in check,” he said.

The official said the problem did not just involve financial losses but potential dangers posed by the exposed substations.

“With the gates gone, what is to prevent neighbourhood children from entering the substations' compounds and possibly getting electrocuted in the process?

“These syndicates do not care that in their bid to make a quick buck, innocent children could die as a result.”

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