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Jul 30, 2007

Thieves targeting utilities, broadcasters for copper wire

Story PictureLike it or not, we live in a market economy, and while we all may be familiar with the fluctuating prices for oil, sugar and citrus, they are not the only commodities that affect our lives. The soaring cost of copper, for example, has proved to be a boon for one special group of Belizeans: thieves.

Paul Evans, Engineer, Channel Five
“We had incidents in the past where we had left over R.F. Cables, the transmission cable, which has heavy copper wrapping on it, those, bits and pieces have disappeared, but just what has been left in the yard and things like that. This is the first time that we have actually had a break in just to get stuff like this.”

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
And what the thieves were after was copper wire that police say is being sold for as much as four dollars per pound and then taken away by buyers who come from neighbouring countries like Mexico and Guatemala. Other users of wire, like Belize Electricity Limited, have also been hit. That has caused B.E.L. to issue advisories such as this one appealing to those responsible for copper wire theft to be aware of the dangers. In June of 2006, two thieves were electrocuted at a B.E.L. substation when they accidentally made contact with the live lines.

At the Channel Five transmission site, engineer Paul Evans estimates that at least twenty-five feet of cable was damaged.

Paul Evans
“They haven’t taken any electrical equipment, they haven’t taken anything, it’s just basically that they are after. … They didn’t touch any of the transmitting equipment. The only way we found out that this had happened over the weekend is that in the process of pulling the brackets off the wall, they disconnected the cable and we had an off-air situation in Dangriga, which is fed from here, and that’s how we found out.”

The thieves also cut away at electrical wires that were bolted to the station’s five hundred foot high tower. The wires that provide protection from lightning were also split and left thrown on the ground.

Paul Evans
“Somebody had to know what they were doing who did this because this stuff, even if it’s all grounded, it’s connected into the incoming mains ground and I don’t think any ordinary thief would just come in a grab that stuff, somebody obviously knew what they were doing.”

The thieves gained access into the compound by jumping the security fence and breaking the door’s locks. The transmitting site is also shared by Speednet.

Paul Evans
“It could have been worse, I’m glad no equipment was touched, but in this case it means that we’re gonna have to go and do this all over again and put it all back, it is an expense.”

According to the police, copper wire theft is becoming a major problem, particularly in the north. In Orange Walk police investigations have identified a number of the buyers and sellers and arrests are expected.

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