Looters are pilfering costly copper

A spike in thefts of materials containing copper, linked to a huge increase in the value of the metal, has caused widespread damage to infrastructure and businesses across the country. The disappearance earlier of this week of a 600-meter metal conveyor belt from an industrial site in Kozani, northern Greece, is being attributed to as yet unidentified thieves eager to sell the copper it contained. It is the latest in a string of thefts, mirroring similar lootings across Europe and beyond, believed to have been motivated by a 300 percent rise in copper prices over the past five years. Earlier this month police in Thessaloniki arrested three men on suspicion of stealing some 6 tons of copper from a Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) warehouse in the city. The majority of such thefts have occurred in northern Greece, with dozens of manhole covers, underground water pipes and even sections of irrigation networks having been stolen. In the municipality of Ptolemaida, a sudden interruption in the water supply of a local village was attributed to the destruction of a reservoir pump by copper-seeking looters. In another recent incident, unidentified thieves removed a 250-kilo bell from a church in the village of Vassiliki near Trikala in central Greece. It is unclear whether these thefts are part of an organized racket. Some suspects are members of local Roma communities. In makeshift settlements in Attica, Gypsies often burn cables in order to remove the copper, and sell it on, but these cables are often found in the trash, not stolen. There has been no organized crackdown by police to deter perpetrators from stealing chunks of metal containing copper, perhaps because the variety of sources is so great, from utilities and transport infrastructure to church bells.