Exxon’s UK arm, Esso, had shut a pipeline running from its Fawley oil refinery near Southampton for checks, the company said this week, after a report that thieves tapped into the line and took thousands of litres of fuel.

“Esso is committed to the very highest standards of safety. The pipeline has, therefore, been closed down and our specialists are working to check it and, if necessary, effect any repair,” it said.

A company spokesman said Esso did not expect its retail customers to be affected by the pipeline closure.

Earlier on Monday, the Daily Echo newspaper reported that police were hunting a gang of thieves who were thought to have tapped into the underground pipeline.

More than 30 000 litres of diesel might have been taken from the pipeline, the newspaper reported. That would be worth about £41 000 (R725 000) at pump prices.

Police found a stash of diesel they believe was siphoned off by the thieves. Two men, aged 32 and 34, have been arrested in connection with the theft.

Police were guarding the spot in West Wellow, Hampshire, southern England, where the thieves are thought to have tapped into the 35cm pipeline, the paper reported. The fuel was being stored safely and engineers from the refinery were working to retrieve it, it said, citing police. – Reuters