South Africa faces oil clean up after attempted theft from pipeline

South Africa’s state-owned pipeline operator said it’s cleaning up a crude oil spill in the eastern city of Durban that was caused by attempted fuel theft, a practice that’s been ongoing despite measures taken by the company.

Tampering caused a spill on 19 October that contaminated the uMbilo River and reached the harbour area as an emergency response team was deployed, said Transnet SOC Ltd, whose pipeline unit maintains 3,800 kilometers (2,360 miles) of high-pressure petroleum and gas pipelines. The company estimates as much as 60,000 liters of crude oil was leaked.

Transnet Pipelines has had over 80 incidents of fuel theft this financial year that involve tampering with infrastructure, the company said.

These crimes have a broad effect on business and the environment. Farmers in June blamed diesel theft for shortages and price increases that threatened food security.

Transnet has coordinated with law enforcement agencies, leading to arrests and the impounding of vehicles and fuel tankers.

The thieves generally either break into block valve chambers or dig holes along the pipeline and weld a fitting on before syphoning the fuel to tanker trucks, according to Transnet.

The failure of such fittings results in spills that cause environmental damage and fires have also occurred.

The company earlier this year put out a request for a drone fleet with high-powered cameras as well as security teams using 4×4 vehicles, Business Insider reported, citing government tender documents.

Repairs to the pipeline damaged this week have been completed, averting any supply delays, Transnet said.

Read: First details on South Africa’s new platinum industrial zone – stretching from Limpopo to KZN

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South Africa faces oil clean up after attempted theft from pipeline