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Three suspected cell tower battery thieves nabbed

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The Hawks in Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), this week arrested three suspects on the N2 after they were found in possession of stolen cellphone network batteries.

The arrests were made by the Hawks Serious Organised Crime Investigation and Port Shepstone K9.

In a statement, spokesperson Andrea Naicker said the Hawks pounced on the three after receiving information of a van travelling on the N2 to Port Shepstone loaded with a number of cellphone tower batteries.

“The Hawks together with the Port Shepstone K9 and LCRC [local criminal record centre] immediately responded to the information, and the bakkie in question was located around the Hibberdene area, where the members noticed five suspects offloading batteries at an outbuilding of a scrapyard,” said Naicker.

As police officials approached the property, she said, two suspects fled and three suspects aged between 26 and 35 were arrested on the scene for possession of stolen goods.

Police recovered 48 cellphone tower batteries – 24 Vodacom batteries and 24 Colide batteries weighing around 90kg each – to the total value of R480 000 and the bakkie estimated at R280 000, which was reported as stolen in the Berea area of Durban. The van has since been impounded.

The suspects are scheduled to appear in Hibberdene, Turton District Court on Thursday and are expected to face charges relating to possession of stolen goods.

The arrests come as criminal syndicates are increasingly targeting South African mobile operators’ base stations, stealing or vandalising critical infrastructure like batteries, copper cables and diesel.

The rate of vandalism and theft, especially multiple repeat incidents, is sometimes forcing the operators to abandon base stations due to unviable replacement costs, thereby adversely impacting network availability or quality in some areas.

In August last year, MTN recovered batteries to the value of almost R1 million in one week alone, thanks to the involvement of the SAPS, security personnel and ordinary South Africans.

Byron Kennedy, Vodacom spokesperson, recently told ITWeb that local network providers’ base stations are increasingly being targeted for theft and vandalism, and “what we are finding through our investigations is that organised syndicates are coming up with unique approaches to commit this crime”.

He pointed out it is estimated that local cellphone network providers lose hundreds of millions of rands due to damage to base stations annually as a result of theft and vandalism, which ultimately impacts the cost of mobile services.

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