They come at night, crack open tanks and drain petrol and diesel from trucks and construction machinery: fuel thieves. The perpetrators usually get away with it. Can fuel theft be prevented at all?
Drill out the tank cap, hose in, canister underneath, pump out the fuel and away: With this simple and at the same time bold trick, criminals tap fuel from parked trucks and construction machinery – mostly diesel, sometimes petrol.
The procedure is lucrative for the perpetrators. In mid-January, the price of diesel reached an all-time high. The liter cost about 1.58 euros on average, petrol a few cents more. With a truck tank size of 200 to 1500 liters, the perpetrators have a lot to gain. The phenomenon is not new, but its extent is largely unknown. “This is a real problem for the industry,” says Martin Bulheller, spokesman for the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL). “Especially because there are no reliable figures.”
Criminals strike at night
The perpetrators usually tamper with the vehicles at night in the dark when the trucks are unobserved in the commercial area, in parking lots or on company premises. In some cases, trucks are also bled at rest stops while drivers are still blissfully asleep in their cabs. This is what happened in mid-January when strangers stole around 300 liters of diesel from a truck at the Funckenhausen service area on the A1 while the trucker was sleeping.
The police are powerless, the investigations usually come to nothing. Only rarely are the perpetrators caught in the act. As in the case of a 20-year-old who tried to suck diesel out of a truck with a hose at the end of last year in Halvesbostel, Lower Saxony, and was observed by a witness. The clear-up rate is less than 10 percent, as the Lower Saxony State Criminal Police Office informed the German Press Agency. Because if the thieves were not caught red-handed, the fuel could not usually be assigned to a specific crime.
High number of unreported cases
That’s why not much is known about the perpetrators. “These are not only organized gangs, but sometimes also their own employees,” says BGL spokesman Bulheller. Nobody knows exactly how many tanks are drilled in Germany. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), the cases are not recorded separately in the police crime statistics. They also do not appear in the statistics of insurance companies. Because the stolen fuel will be “replaced neither by the partially comprehensive nor by the fully comprehensive insurance,” says Brigitte Römstedt from the R+V insurance company, which also includes one of the largest truck insurers in Germany, the dpa.
According to the Federal Office for Goods Transport, the number of unreported cases of theft of fuel is correspondingly high. Especially in the case of smaller amounts of stolen fuel, often no report is made or the theft is not even noticed. “Many people grudgingly accept this because an ad is usually unsuccessful,” says BGL spokesman Bulheller. However, these acts are not trivial: according to the BKA, theft is punishable by fines or imprisonment of up to five years. In particularly serious cases, for example if theft was commercially carried out or a building was broken into before the crime, there is a risk of imprisonment of up to ten years.
What to do against fuel theft?
The most effective way to avoid fuel theft, as in the case of cargo theft, the so-called tarpaulin slitting, is to make it difficult for the thieves to access the vehicle. Ideally, the trucks are parked in fenced and camera-monitored areas or in locked buildings. In the meantime, some manufacturers also offer special tank locks and security systems. “Sometimes someone comes with a pickaxe and just punches a hole in the tank. Then the damage is even greater,” says Bulheller. Curious: A sticker with the note “bio-diesel” has successfully deterred one or the other perpetrator in the past. dpa
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