Suspected criminals are attacking trains on the multi-billion kwacha railway line from Moatize to the Indian Ocean port of Nacala in Mozambique through Malawi mostly to siphon diesel from trains.
Documents we have seen show that since December 2015, there have been 24 security occurrences across the Malawian stretch, especially in the districts of Mwanza and Neno in which tens of thousands of litres of diesel were stolen from locomotives.
The line also passes through Chikwawa, Blantyre Rural, Balaka and Machinga districts.
The documents detail that the people, suspected to be mostly villagers in the districts along the stretch, are either vandalising the railway and locomotives, stealing from the locomotives or causing security threats to drivers.
Mwanza Police Station yesterday confirmed the latest case that happened betweenmidnight Tuesday and dawn yesterday in Ng’ozo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nthache in the district where people had put a stone on the railway line to block the train.
Mwanza Police spokesperson Edwin Kaunda, in a telephone interview yesterday, said when a train coming from Balaka heading to Moatize reached the spot, it derailed and went to the ground where it immediately stopped.
He claimed: “The main aim of the people who do this is to stop the train so that they can have a chance to steal fuel from [the train], but this did not materialise as police officers were called on time to control the situation.”
Kaunda even claimed that this is the first incident of its kind registered this year, but said common incidents include attempted thefts and thefts that take place during points where two trains coming from different directions (Malawi and Mozambique) stop to intersect.
But documents we have seen show that the criminal activities are occurring frequently and that contrary to Mwanza Police’s claims that nothing was stolen, fuel was in fact siphoned yesterday at Ng’ozo Village.
According to a compilation of theft incidents we have seen, locomotive K141 (1839 1835 1832 & 1847) with 120 empty wagons coming from the direction of Nayuchi arrived at CL 3 at about 05:47hrs yesterday.
When the locomotive stopped for vigilantes to remove stones which villagers put on the turn-out key, a gang of more than 150 people gathered at the loop to attack and siphon fuel.
Apparently the gang used strong wires to disturb/tamper with the switch and the locomotive went into second line which led to derailment of leader locomotive 1839. The hijackers reportedly overpowered the locomotive’s security comprising two vigilantes, two dog-handlers and four troopers on the escort.
After the derailment of the leader locomotive, the villagers siphoned fuel from the locomotive and more than 50 jerry cans of 25 litres were siphoned.
Other cases of the thefts include one of 1 000 litres of diesel from a locomotive on December 21 2015 at around 3am, theft of 1 700 litres of diesel on December 4 2015 and tens of cases between January and March this year that also targeted fuel.
The Nation also understands that as early as this week, Vale wrote the Secretary for Transport and Public Works to, once again, remind government of the worsening security situation along on the corridor.
Recently, the Central East African Railways (Cear) reported cases of vandalism and encroachment of its railway line as well as attacks of its trains carrying wheat from Nacala in Mozambique.
The attacks, happening around Nkaya in Machinga, forced Cear to increase armed police officers from five to 10 at Nayuchi Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) check point and from one to five during transit from Nacala.
The construction and rehabilitation of the 136-kilometre railway line was a solution to problems that Vale Mozambique faced in transporting its coal to Nacala, the bigger and wider port.
Efforts to talk to Minister of Transport and Public Works Francis Kasaila proved futile as he could not be reached on his phones yesterday.
Malawi licensed Mozambican company, Corridor Logistico Integrado de Nacala to start operating the railway line.
Vale Logistics Limited is the developer of the project.