The cutting of a six-inch oil transfer line on Primera Oil and Gas Limited’s Fyzabad Block may be indicative of a dangerous new undertaking by scrap metal thieves who are mostly unhindered as they carry out their illegal activities across the country.
While investigations into this incident are ongoing and there has not yet been a determination of whether the culprits were saboteurs or thieves, it fits in with an increasing trend where oil facilities are being targeted.
Metal fixtures are regularly being cut and carted away from old Petrotrin facilities, but these thefts are no longer limited to abandoned fields if this latest incident is anything to go by.
What is particularly worrying is that there could have been a tragic outcome as a section of an active pipeline was hacked off, causing spillage of approximately 250 barrels of oil, and forcing the evacuation of 40 nearby residents. The loss incurred because of crude oil covering acres of land is still being estimated, but will include the destruction of food crops and damage to a tilapia pond.
Thieves, lured by prospects for ill-gotten profits from the booming global trade in scrap metals, have been having a field day, making off with manhole covers, cutting copper cables and dismantling any type of infrastructure with metal fixtures.
And they have been going to dangerous lengths with these thefts.
Cable thieves were blamed for a fire that destroyed two houses at Bayshore, Marabella. In April, a man was electrocuted while cutting cable wires along the Rochard Douglas Road in Barrackpore and residents of Bournes Road, St James, were left without water after copper fittings on WASA pipes in that community were stolen.
Just yesterday, the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) reported that scrap metal thieves are now targeting the copper lines attached to air-conditioning units on building rooftops in Port-of-Spain. In one instance, they made off with an entire 24,000 BTU condenser.
There have been some arrests. Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales recently told Parliament 184 persons had been arrested and charged for the theft and vandalism of TSTT copper wires. However, that is a drop in the bucket compared to the scale of these illegal activities.
The Scrap Iron Dealers’ Association (TTSIDA) has been spending a great deal of time distancing itself from these illegal activities and appealing for interventions by the Government to regularise the sector.
However, a lot more than a legislative response is needed to curb the out-of-control thievery of public and private property. This is yet another situation that demands a more forceful response from the T&T Police Service (TTPS) to prevent an unbelievably unpleasant situation from getting worse.
Global demand for scrap metal has skyrocketed in recent years. Scrap metal exports from this country escalated from approximately $69 million to $216 million over 10 years.
The lure of easy money from an unregulated system has left citizens at the mercy of vandals and thieves, incurring prohibitive costs for replacements and repairs.
The Fyzabad incident has shown the potential risks to the public if the scrap iron criminals are left to continue with their illegal and dangerous activities.
The potential for the loss of innocent lives is great and there is a need for urgent action from the relevant authorities.