A motorist holds a fuel pump at a Gulf petrol station in London in this April 18, 2006 file photo. Oil dropped nearly 2 percent on March 20, 2012 as Saudi Arabia sought to knock back crude's price rise that has threatened the global economy, with the oil minister offering the most detailed argument to date that the OPEC nation was prepared to meet any supply shortfall. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/Files (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS ENERGY COMMODITIES)

London - UK police are hunting a gang of thieves who are thought to have tapped into an underground oil pipeline, stealing thousands of litres of fuel, a newspaper reported on Monday.

More than 30 000 litres of diesel may have been taken from the pipeline running from Esso's Fawley Refinery, the Daily Echo reported. That would be worth about £41 000 pounds (about R722 000) at pump prices.

Oil theft from pipelines is relatively rare in Britain but a major problem in some parts of the world, such as Nigeria where it is estimated to cost the government up to $1 billion per month.

Police were guarding the spot in West Wellow, Hampshire, southern England, where the thieves are thought to have tapped into the 14-inch pipeline, the paper reported. The fuel is being stored safely and engineers from the refinery are working to retrieve it, it said, citing police.

The pipeline, known as the Midline Pipeline and owned by Esso, is one of the UK's main underground pipelines that supply fuel including gas, diesel, gasoline and jet fuel.

A similar incident took place recently in Gloucestershire, the newspaper reported.

Esso, a UK unit of Exxon Mobil, did not comment on the Hampshire theft and referred enquiries to the police, the newspaper reported. - Reuters