Cables stolen from the switchyard at a substation. FILE PIC

IF the lights in your house suddenly go out in the middle of the night or your fixed telephone line is dead, there is a strong possibility that someone had cut a section of the utility company’s high voltage cables or removed the telephone cables.

These cables are sought-after by scrap metal thieves because of their price. A tonne of scrap copper can easily fetch US$750 (or RM2,850) or as high as US$24,000 (RM91,200). Its high price is its undoing and thieves will take risks, even if it costs them their lives.

The thieves may just get pittance for the copper cables, which are usually sold to unlicensed scrap metal collectors who get most of the profits after the wires are compacted and resold to smelters who then process them into other products.

Last year, 40 cases of stolen cables from the utility companies’ facilities in Kuala Nerus were reported. In January, 11 cases were reported and last month alone, four cases.

Reportedly, utility companies have been losing about RM50 million a year to cable thieves. Culprits often target copper cables used for its Internet service. The loss of the cables affects clients’ broadband Internet access.

So, when your Internet connection is at a snail’s pace, there is a strong possibility that the cables have been cut and stolen.

Numerous campaigns have been held to instill awareness among the public to stop cable theft, but yet, stories of these cables getting stolen and disrupting electricity and communication services are frequent.

In its campaigns, the companies used print and the electronic media, outdoor advertising and online media and held meetings with community leaders while increasing the frequency of patrols at the installations.

It seemed effective for a while, but things became messy again when the thieves found their way around the security. They also found ways to prevent themselves from being electrocuted while removing the high voltage cables.

It is understood that it is quite impossible for utility companies to station inspectors or guards every 200m along the cable lines. The next best option is perhaps to install closed-circuit television (CCTVs) cameras along the alignment of the cables. They may not be able to stop the thieves, but they can alert the police or companies to react to a situation immediately. Recording the crime will also help utility companies and police identify the culprits and act accordingly.

Utility companies can also opt for other initiatives, such as replacing copper cables with fibre optic cables or migrate to wireless systems, so that power and telephone services are not disrupted. They can also increase the height of the overhead cables or cover the pole with grease to prevent climbing or burying the cables underground so that they will be out of sight.

The next most important step is to identify unregistered scrap metal yards and seal the premises for good.

The selling of the copper cables will stop when the operations of unregistered buyers are nipped in the bud.

Inspections must also be made at registered scrap yards to see if any prohibited items, such as cables or even motorcycle parts, are stored at the premises.

The writer is NST's Specialist Writer based in Terengganu. He is an environmentalist and enjoys capturing the beauty of flora and fauna in its fragile environment. He draws his inspiration from cross-county drives on and off-road adventures

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