Coronavirus: Auckland business pleads for safe return of stolen vaccine freezer component

An Auckland engineering business is pleading for the safe return of a critical component of a COVID-19 vaccine freezer that's been stolen.

Thieves made off with a heat exchanger being built for a freezer on Saturday morning, which could store well over five million vaccine doses.

Burglars broke into a Penrose industrial yard and made off with a haul of copper.

"They don't know what they've stolen but they've certainly gone through great lengths to disguise themselves," says the business owner, who doesn't want to be identified, fearing copycats and retaliation.

He was building a custom-made heat exchanger for a research and development project in India - a freezer room able to store five million COVID-19 vaccines.

"I really don't want to see it go to a scrap yard, because the effort that's gone into designing it specifically for this task, and then to see it go and get melted down is very frustrating."

The thieves broke through a security gate at 3:30am on Saturday, driving a silver Audi with stolen plates. They then smashed a crate and took the exchanger.

The business owner says the unit would've been stolen for one reason only - to try and sell the copper for scrap.

"It's just a piece of copper for someone else, but to us, it's something that's going to take another three months to build and slows down the project we're working on."

Metalcorp director Korina Kirk says recyclers will be keeping their eyes out for such a large item and will work with the police.

"Our industry and our members, we're actually a massive part of the solution in recovering these sorts of things and apprehending these offenders when they come into our yards," she says.

Police say any dealer that purchases copper must take down the details of who they bought it from, say how much they paid for it, and keep it in a place where police can inspect it for up to two weeks. If they don't comply, they could be fined up to $10,000.

The business still holds out hope the unit will be returned intact.