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Aussie company falls victim to the world’s most bungled theft

Lucy Dean
Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in ‘Home Alone’. Credit: Hughes Entertainment/20th Century Fox
Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in ‘Home Alone’. Credit: Hughes Entertainment/20th Century Fox

While they’re known as a potent aphrodisiac, oysters probably aren’t worth risking incarceration for.

But thieves in Indonesia may disagree.

Australian listed pearling business, Atlas Pearls (ASX: ATP) has described a security incident involving the theft of young oysters on one of its pearling farms in Indonesia.

In a trading update to the ASX, the company said the “minor security incident” involved the theft of young oysters not bearing pearls.

But as the company has increased the survival rates of other oysters and seedings, the theft is unlikely to affect targets or have a material impact on future performance.

“However, the security breach is being taken very seriously, security protocols are being upgraded and investigations are ongoing.”

The company, which refers to itself as a “world leading pearl producer of ‘the queen of all gems’ the South Sea Pearl”, posted total sales of $6.6 million in the same update and a like-for-like sales growth of 3.3 per cent.

However it also noted that the market has remained soft in the Australian retail and wholesale sectors while internationally the market is strong.

A 2005 pearl theft saw $500,000 worth of pearls stolen

The theft pales in comparison to the 2005 Broome pearl theft which saw close to 300 pearls worth an estimated $500,000 stolen from the Clipper Pearls farm in Broome.

A $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction was offered at the time.

Owner Larry House told the ABC the theft was likely performed by an insider.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our people are very good, but it looks like someone with some inside knowledge and some people that have an idea of how the pearling industry works have targeted us,” he said.

“I’d say there’s every chance it could be someone who has worked for us in the past.”

Oyster black market a global problem

While these thieves were planning to come away with valuable pearls rather than potent aphrodisiacs, the black market for oysters is actually just as rife.

The theft of oysters for consumption is a widespread problem and comes with major biosecurity hazards, the NSW Farmers Organisation warned last year.

However, many oyster farmers consider theft as loss and don’t report it.

Those who steal oysters don’t know if the oysters are safe for consumption, and can cause major harm.

And while NSW Farmers recognised that most thieves are fishers, some thieves are actively supplying the black market and will steal larger quantities.

“The economic loss to the farmer can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. And that’s not just in the value of the oysters that are stolen,” Oyster Committee chair and NSW Farmers’ executive councillor, Caroline Henry said last year.

“It takes three to four years for a Sydney Rock Oyster to grow to market size and during that time it’s a labour-intensive business, so all the hours spent growing, drying and grading those oysters has also been lost,” she continued.

“If people only buy oysters from reputable sellers and check that they’re tagged with the name of the grower, the lease they came from and the date they were harvested, you can be assured the product you have bought has been purchased legally and is safe to eat. The black market will dry up if nobody buys from it.”

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