x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Empty filling stations and the great fuel mystery

Petrol retailers say filling-station closures are necessary for 'technical upgrades', but there is little sign of maintenance at petrol stations in Sharjah as fuel shortages persist.

Some motorists say they are not convinced that upgrades to filling stations could be wholly responsible for the fuel supply problems.
Some motorists say they are not convinced that upgrades to filling stations could be wholly responsible for the fuel supply problems.

SHARJAH // This was the scene repeated at filling stations throughout the northern Emirates yesterday in the third week of a fuel shortage: no petrol for sale.

Long queues built up at those garages that did have fuel, and many drivers were filling up late at night to avoid having to wait.

Taxi drivers are being particularly hard hit. "If I stay in a queue for 30 minutes during the day, that is a big inconvenience because I have a big daily target to meet," said Mohammed Fakhan of Union Taxi.

"I will have to compensate 30 minutes' loss during the day with two hours' extra work at night."

The fuel shortages began in Sharjah two weeks ago and have since spread to Ajman and Umm al Qawain. The petrol retailers Enoc and Eppco say the filling-station closures are necessary for technical upgrades to pumps at 167 garages in Dubai and the northern Emirates, and the closures are increasing demand at other petrol stations, leading to queues and shortages.

Their spokesman Khalid Hadi said yesterday 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.

Reporters from The National visited 15 of the 41 Eppco and Enoc filling stations in Sharjah, and six in Ajman, over the past two days. None had fuel for sale, and there was no sign of any maintenance work. At many, the only staff on duty were in the on-site convenience stores.

At one petrol station on Al Ittihad Road trenches had been dug around the pumps, which were surrounded by construction barriers, but an employee there said the station had been closed for repairs since May 1, weeks before the shortages began.

Some motorists said they were not convinced that upgrades could be wholly responsible for the fuel supply problems.

"We don't believe them - something is wrong and they are not telling the public," said Murad Tariq, a frustrated customer at the Eppco station on Al Khan Road yesterday.

"Where are the people doing the maintenance work here now?

"Even if it was being done at night, we could still see signs of it during the day, but there seems to be completely nothing going on here."

One Eppco employee at Al Arouba Street petrol station said he had been told there was a problem at the main terminal in Jebel Ali.

Enoc and Eppco released a statement last month saying they were "managing fuel supplies to meet the current demand".

"This involves a two-pronged approach of regulating the distribution of fuel through our network, as well as upgrading selected stations," the statement said. "Selected stations will be upgraded progressively with the result that the operation of some petrol islands could be temporarily suspended."

Their spokesman Mr Hadi said yesterday the installation of improved dispensing equipment was continuing as planned. He said none of the upgrades, which were started two weeks ago in Sharjah, had yet been completed.

"The first stage was Sharjah and now we are moving into Ajman, the northern Emirates and Fujairah. Then we'll return to Dubai. However, we don't expect it will take as long in Dubai because the pumps are relatively new."

Drivers are not the only people suffering from the shortages. The only Eppco station in Al Hamriya, where Sharjah fishermen refuel their boats, is closed.

Omran al Shamsi, president of Sharjah Fishermen's Association, said several fishermen had stopped work and they were asking authorities to intervene.

"The good news is that Adnoc has accepted our proposal to have a temporary mobile petrol station that will start soon to refuel the fishermen's boats and continue for the several weeks this shortage could last," he said.

The mobile petrol station will be able serve 240 fishermen.