A typical car used by the "oil rats" which contains an electric pumping device that pulls the oil from the truck tank. (Ti Gong)
Twelve people have been caught and four others are being hunted for allegedly stealing oil from trucks in suburban Shanghai amid a crackdown on the so-called "oil rats," police said on Thursday.
The intensive campaign, launched at the end of November by police in Baoshan District, which sees heavy truck traffic, targets thieves who steal oil from parked trucks and then sell the stolen fuel to illegal gas stations.
A total of 15 tons of stolen oil, mostly diesel, worth more than 100,000 yuan (US,200), was discovered from the 12 suspects along with 12 cars in which they transported the oil, police said.
The oil thieves usually use dated Buick models and the brand's GL8 business purpose cars to steal oil, replacing the back seats with large bags for concealing the stolen stuff, according to police.
The thieves normally look for drivers who park their lorries on the streets at night and sleep inside while waiting outside freight yards overnight to load goods in the morning, police said.
Since fuel tanks of many heavy trucks are exposed outside, the thieves can easily breach them, insert hoses and use an electric pump to withdraw oil from the tanks. Police said a full oil tank of a heavy truck could be cleaned out within a few minutes.
While the average market price of diesel is about 6 yuan per liter, the stolen oil was usually sold at 4 yuan per liter, and the illegal gas stations would sell it to customers for 5 yuan per liter, police revealed.
It's estimated that a full tank of diesel from a heavy truck can be worth 3,000 to 4,000 yuan.
Armed SWAT team
Police, in coordination with personnel from the armed SWAT team, set up road blocks at night to check for suspicious cars while tracking down the oil thieves down through street surveillance cameras. Such cars usually sported fake plates.
The thieves were often tracked down to some obscure neighborhoods or groves where they parked the cars with the stolen oil.
"The thieves often threaten the truck drivers and even beat them up if, by chance, they are caught," said Huang Chuanjun, vice head of the Baoshan Public Security Bureau. "They don't follow any rules and simply drive rampantly when chased by police, posing a threat to public safety."
Besides stepping up security at the district's parking lots and freight yards to watch out for suspicious oil thieves, Baoshan police said they're also working with large transportation companies to develop new technologies to make the fuel tanks more secure.
To tackle the problem of illegal gas stations, police said they will work closely with market inspectors and urban management teams to crack down on such illegal businesses.
In Pudong, too, where "oil rats" are active in suburban areas, the police's crackdown campaign since November has netted 21 suspects, along with nine cars and three tons of stolen diesel.