Theft rampant in timber industry

Theft of equipment and timber in the industry is rampant – and escalating. The theft of chainsaws in Mpumalanga alone amounted to more than R10 million in the past two years.

- Advertisement -

This was according to Pieter Knipschild, chairperson of the Lowveld Timber Theft Forum. “Bell Loggers, which cost about R630 000 each, are left infield and thieves are stripping them for parts, such as engines, wheel motors and pumps,” he said. “In the past six months, about seven Bells have been stripped. They are then rebuilt. It’s a huge problem.”

In May, an operation conducted by members of the Lowveld Timber Theft Forum recovered a Bell Logger that had been rebuilt using stolen parts and a burnt out frame. “Unfortunately only one part – a wheel motor – was marked with the rightful owner’s name. Consequently, despite the suspect’s activities being known to members, the police were obliged to hand back the rest of the machine to the suspect,” said Knipschild.

“The bottom line is that owners cannot reclaim stolen items if they cannot prove that they rightfully belong to them.” Rising theft has led to the establishment of four timber theft forums throughout the timber growing regions, in the Lowveld, Greytown, Piet Retief/Vryheid and Richards Bay areas. These forums have been working to raise awareness and improve co-operation between timber growers, transporters, contractors, mills and police.

- Advertisement -

Knipschild attributed the escalation in theft to a sudden rise in the number of small timber contractors, who have contracts to harvest 1ha but ‘help themselves’ to other timber.  Theft is becoming so severe that almost all the big timber companies have hired former police detectives as risk control managers to protect their assets, said Knipschild. Roger Godsmark, Forestry SA operations director, said that by next year the industry should have captured enough data to give an idea of the scale of timber and equipment theft.

“Theft is clearly a massive problem and yet the judicial system, whether the police or magistrates, don’t treat it as a serious crime,” he said. Timber growers are urged to mark their equipment – not only smaller items, such as chainsaws, knapsacks and brush cutters, but the components of larger equipment, such as the chassis, boom, rotator, grab, wheel rims, engine and pumps of vehicles.

“Engrave, weld, punch or ‘data dot’ machinery with a unique mark, such as a number, name or symbol.  “Take a photo and record these markings for identification purposes. If the machine is stolen, give police the marking details when reporting the theft and circulate the details to neighbours,” advised Knipschild.