Fuel shortages spread yesterday from Sharjah and Ajman to Dubai and Ras al Khaimah.
Increased demand at Emarat and Eppco stations that did have petrol sucked their tanks dry, in some cases for more than a week.
In Sharjah, where the shortages began more than two weeks ago, none of the 11 Enoc and Eppco stations visited by The National yesterday had petrol for sale.
All 26 filling stations in the city and industrial areas and about half a dozen in Ajman have run dry in the past few days. None showed signs of the technical upgrades company officials say are the reason for the closures.
Emarat stations in Bur Dubai and near the airport also ran out of petrol. Two managers said that for the past few weeks they had received only half of the 36,000 litres of petrol a day that they needed, and other stations were facing the same or greater cutbacks.
Four out of eight filling stations said they sometimes ran out by late afternoon because of a combination of reduced supply and increased demand from customers driving from Sharjah in search of petrol.
Managers said they did not know the reason for the cutbacks. "We just hope maybe the petrol will come," said one supervisor, Suraj.
Another manager said his station had run dry but his staff stayed at the pumps to tell customers they needed to look elsewhere. "Sometimes they get angry," he said.
In RAK, Eppco stations have had no petrol for eight days because of what station managers called "logistical problems". At least one Enoc station near the E311 was closed.
The Eppco shortage caused demand for petrol to double at other filling stations near the road.
"We are not getting enough stock," said Shihibooheen Abdul Rahiman, an Emarat station manager. "We are getting only 18,000 litres of high-octane petrol and we need 36,000. At times, our tank has been dry for an hour or two while we wait for deliveries. Yesterday our demand doubled and today it is the same. Usually 18,000 litres is all we need."
Even residential areas were affected. One Adnoc station had no high-octane petrol for half an hour yesterday as it waited for new supplies to meet an estimated 20 per cent increase in demand.
Another manager said his station expected a delivery by last night or this morning.
Some filling-station workers said they had been told there were problems at the oil terminal at Jebel Ali. "I have four friends working in other stations but they all have no upgrading work going on there," said one at the Eppco station on Sharjah University Street. "The only thing we know is that bosses are fixing a problem in Jebel Ali."
Eppco staff in the industrial area also said their supervisors had told them of technical problems at Jebel Ali terminal.
The petrol retailers Enoc and Eppco have said the filling-station shutdowns are necessary for technical upgrades to pumps at 167 facilities in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, and that the closures are increasing demand at other petrol stations, leading to queues and shortages.
Their spokesman Khalid Hadi said this week he could not say precisely what work was being done to the pumps, but the upgrades generally took a couple of weeks to complete. All the work should be finished in about two months, he said.
Emarat experienced a four-day fuel shortage in April, which it blamed at the time on a "holdup in logistic operations". Tanker lorries had not arrived at the loading docks on time, it said.
At the time the firm said it had imposed a "regulation of supply distribution to service stations".
Representatives of Emarat, Enoc and Eppco could not be reached for comment yesterday, and officials at Jebel Ali Port either declined to comment or could not be reached..
* Carol Huang reported from Dubai and Yasin Kakande from Sharjah. Additional reporting by Anna Zacharias in Ras al Khaimah