by Tony Dobson

Yellow metal theft: A gold mine industry

With the increase in illegal mining operations, the need for mining equipment grows. Now what thief will legally go and rent some equipment and put it to work? Only the dumb ones.


Over the past couple of years the need for mining equipment for illegal mining operations has risen by nearly 60%. This leaves the yellow metals industry wide open for abuse. Plant hire companies are being ripped off daily. An example of this was a Johannesburg plant hire company that hired out four excavators to an individual. All seemed above board until the return date was reached and the plant hire company tried to contact the individual who had hired the equipment. A tracking company was contacted and ground crew dispatched.

The excavators were last seen in the Limpopo province near Polokwane heading south to Burgersfort. This didn’t seem strange at all. The tracking unit was live but battling to transmit a signal back to the tracking base due to the lack of cell phone coverage in the area. The ground crew managed to track down the excavators abandoned in an open field about an hour after they were reported to have been “stolen”. What came next was a huge shock to the ground crew and the owner of the excavators.

As required by law, the tracking company informed the South African Police Service of the incident and they dispatched a vehicle to the scene. While the ground crew waited they noticed that there were about seven other excavators on the scene and went to have a look at what was going on. Benefit of the doubt was given and they checked the VIN numbers on a database of stolen excavators. Lo and behold they were also sought by the police. Things started to heat up. The ground crew had literally stumbled across a gold mine. They had recovered the excavators on an illegal mining site. The police arrived and suddenly the area was over crowded with officials and law enforcers.

Far too often I see reports of vehicles, trucks and yellow metal plants being stolen and the tracking devices taken out. Ground crew recovery teams regularly find tracking units at the last known locations. This is very concerning to the heavy transport and plant hire community. There is only one logical reason why this happens. The thieves are getting more proficient at their jobs, which means that plant and truck owners need to be more proficient at ensuring plant safety.

How do you do this? Well you can put a tracking unit into your plant, truck or motor vehicle? But this alone isn’t enough anymore. Secondary measures need to be taken to ensure that you are covered.

Many tracking companies have a secondary device that can be placed in the asset to ensure that it will be recovered. I explored two of these companies tracking units and secondary devices to see what was the best and two recovery teams employed by tracking companies to see what they got up to.

This is what I came up with:

A GPS tracking device is just a dot on the map that tells you how fast you are going and where you went to. A secondary device like a radio frequency (RF) device can seldom give you a pinpoint of where it is, but can be hidden to ensure that when your tracking company is looking for your plant they are going to find it.

Two companies offer this solution and were willing to share what they do to ensure they get their clients assets back.

One company is Intellidrive Vehicle tracking, which is based in Gauteng. They have a really nifty little GPS unit that is their fleet management unit. They also offer their clients a secondary device, which is an independent unit that does not rely on the vehicles power and has a battery life of 5 years in dormant mode. Recovery rate if installed properly is almost guaranteed. I say almost because no tracking company can boast a definitive 100% recovery rate.

EWCOP is the other company, they too are based out of Gauteng and also have a fantastic fleet management unit with a secondary RF unit. Same as above, only works if installed properly. They also offer some sort of secondary unit. Always insist that your tracking company provide you with a secondary back-up unit for your high-risk plant.


Most tracking companies provide an in-house recovery service with in-house ground crews, control rooms, etc. Other companies cut costs by employing external contractors to assist with the recoveries. They both have their pro’s and cons but they are both effective in their own right. The effectiveness of a ground crew is always dependant on their information and resources. If the tracking unit is removed or jammed there is not much they can do to recover the asset.

Identification is the next big tool we need to cover. Visually you can describe the plant by name and give a basic description. But if there are seven identical pieces of plant on the scene, how do you know what is what. There is always microdot identification, but with the numerous vendors for microdots who do you go with. I would always suggest doing your homework and looking at who has the best standing. I noticed that 90% of VW’s are microdotted by a company called Recoveri microdots. Needless to say I looked into the company and I was astonished to find out that the CEO was also heavily involved in combating vehicle crime through the international association of automobile theft investigators. Recoveri provide identification tools to law enforcement to assist them in quickly being able to identify the plant or asset when recovered. This is definitely something to look at when purchasing your next heavy transport item or yellow metals plant. More about this in the next article.

Although we can take every precaution to ensure that we have the right tracking devices and safety measures in place, we always have to be ahead of the eight ball. Everything from cargo to movable assets, cars trucks and yellow metal plant are easy targets for the criminal element. That’s why, as asset owners, you have to consider all options when tracking your vehicle.

GPS tracking units are good to have and are a must in the current economic climate that is South Africa, but we need to remember that getting your vehicles back should be your first priority. Getting the right tracking company to work for your assets, ensuring that you have a secondary device and that there is national coverage from your recovery company. The above combination, along with a good microdotting solution, will cover your assets nicely.

Tony Dobson, security specialist

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Issue 42