The mystery of KPC fuel thieves



A key suspect who disappeared into an underground tunnel on Tuesday when police raided an illegal fuel discharge connection in Mlolongo remained at large Thursday, deepening the mystery of a theft scheme that has cost fuel consumers billions of shillings.

His two alleged accomplices, David Murithi Wanjiru and Isaac Kimani Mukuu, were yesterday taken to court in Athi River where police sought to hold them for five more days to complete investigations.

The suspects are accused of having made an illegal connection to the Mombasa-Nairobi oil pipeline through which they siphoned fuel from an underground tunnel and pumped it into a water tanker disguised as a petroleum truck.

Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), the main complainant in the case, was not represented in court.

In an interview, KPC managing director Hundson Andambi said his officers would visit the police station later Thursday to gather details on the arrested suspects.

"We were not given the names but I was told they went to court. Our security people will gather details from the police station. You know they were just taking plea," said Mr Andambi, promising to give more details on the case at a later date.

KPC has in the past reported losses of fuel worth billions of shillings either in transit or at its storage tanks. The losses are then passed on to consumers in the form of higher pump prices.Oil marketers get compensated through adjustments in pump prices every month to recover pipeline leakages.

A November 2018 KPC Board of Directors’ brief put the total loss of product from nine incidences involving accidental spillages and pilferages between March 2017 and May 2018 at 11.6 million litres.

Oil marketing firms were in mid-March this year locked in a war of words with KPC over the alleged loss of 51 million litres of jet fuel valued at over Sh2.4 billion. The loss briefly plunged the country into a jet fuel supply crisis at the Moi and Jomo Kenyatta international airports.

The third suspect in the Mlolongo theft, who remains at large, allegedly used a tunnel he and others had dug to access the pipeline to escape when police allowed him to get into the tunnel to ‘close the tap’ that was discharging petrol when they were ambushed on Tuesday night. It remains unknown how long the suspects had been siphoning free fuel from the illegal connection.

The Mlolongo fuel thieves had hooked a pipe into the main fuel pipeline and professionally welded it with what KPC described as ‘high standard pipes’ leading into a residence built next to the pipeline wayleave. KPC officials described the connection as meticulously done, signalling the involvement of specialist welders and skilled pipeline experts whose schemes may have gone undetected for months.

Being the fourth such pilferage scheme to be busted in the past two years, concerns are growing over the real scale of loss the economy could be suffering along the line which pumps up to one million litres every hour.

The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, which factors in pipeline losses in its monthly pump price adjustments, yesterday said KPC will be put to task to increase its wayleave surveillance and install a permanent security apparatus to curb such incidents.

Of major concern, according to EPRA director-general Pavel Oimeke, was the lack of a leak detection system on the Sh48 billion pipeline that has had two major incidents of product loss barely a year into operation.

"Our records show that the pipeline was designed to have leak detection and we will soon institute measures against KPC for implementing the project without a leak detection system, which is provided for in the designs," said Mr Oimeke.

As at September 2018, close to six million litres had been stolen from the KPC pipes including the June 2017 Koru theft where a businessman built a petrol station near the KPC line and hooked a pipe diverting products to his station from where it was carried in bulk for distribution. His case, according to KPC officials, is still pending at the Kisumu Law Courts.