The London Metal Exchange, the world's largest financial market for these materials, has set a rise in the price of copper at the beginning of 2024 thanks to increased industrial activity in China, the global consumer of metals. In this way, the three-month copper price is set at $8,564 per metric ton and is not unlikely to continue rising, as the Shanghai Futures Exchange has very low inventories of around 30,905 tons, half the level recorded by the Shanghai Futures Exchange. It existed at the end of 2022.
Although they often don't realize it, copper thieves are subject to this macroeconomics. Oblivious to stock market trends, they know that stealing this metal can be a very profitable business if they then sell it to iron dealers and other middlemen on this black market at a higher price.
Pulse of attraction
For this reason, basic infrastructures, such as railway areas, sewage treatment plants or other facilities, have become a point of attraction for these organized gangs operating in Catalonia and have become a real headache for the managers of “these companies”. Added to the value of the stolen materials is the damage caused by thieves when they break in to steal.
There is no doubt that the main victim of these attacks is Adif. In the last four months of 2023, there were 54 thefts of railway equipment in Catalonia, especially copper cables, according to company data provided to EL PERIÓDICO. They point out that the majority of thefts occur in the Barcelona area, where thefts increased by six if you compare the months from September to December 2023 with the months of 2022.
In 2023 as a whole, 143 robberies or attempted thefts were recorded in Catalonia compared to the 70 that occurred in 2022, an increase of 104%. The most affected province is Barcelona, where it recorded 99 incidents in 2023 compared to 36 in the whole of 2022. In Tarragona, there were 34 incidents last year, compared to 17 in 2022. In Lleida, 10 episodes in 2023, the same province. 2022. The only province to record a decline is Girona, which saw 1 episode last year compared to 7 episodes the year before.
According to Adif, there are two black spots for theft. On the one hand, the areas around Castellbisbal, Cerdanyola and the Vallès Oriental area, where the R3 de Rodalis road dualization works are being carried out. On the other hand, the Terrassa-Manresa section is implemented, in which the European Railway Traffic Management System, known by its English abbreviation ERTMS (European Railway Traffic Management System), is implemented. Copper thefts and thefts are frequent in these areas and attract organized groups that exploit the greater presence of the metal specifically due to acts of attacking facilities.
Although thieves are usually unaware of stock market fluctuations, increased thefts are linked to the higher price of the metal, which also brings in better pay. It's the law of supply and demand. Adif confirms that recent months have witnessed an increase in the prices of materials on the black market.
Organized groups are more willing to focus on different points in search of copper, taking quick action and taking advantage of the fact that there is sometimes little security. However, Mossos d'Esquadra has strengthened both preventive surveillance and communications with companies in this sector so that they adopt preventive measures against attacks such as security cameras or alarms, among others. They are also reminded of the need to keep materials in warehouses when not working, as thefts occur in the absence of operators.
In this sense, Adif has strengthened security measures by strengthening surveillance patrols in points with the highest concentration of attacks, in addition to reporting every theft in order to prosecute those responsible, especially organized gangs, and maintaining close cooperation with the Mossos d'Esquadra. For the railway director, this strategy made it possible to arrest suspects, many of them multiple criminals, near the works or tracks, who were placed at the disposal of the police.
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