Running on empty: Egypt's fuel crisis rumbles on

Ahmed Feteha, Wednesday 18 Jan 2012

Ahram Online joins the queues at central Cairo's petrol stations where workers attribute current shortages to cutbacks in daily deliveries

Motorists queue in-front of gas stations on hope of leaving with a full tank (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

The fuel crisis that has swept Cairo and other Egyptian governorates appears to be rumbling on despite official claims it would ease as early as Tuesday night.

A brief survey of Cairo petrol stations conducted by Ahram Online on Tuesday evening showed most workers attributed the fuel shortage to a drop in supplies they have received from headquarters.

"Before this crisis started the station was usually supplied with 25,000 to 40,000 litres of gas per day, now we get a maximum of 10,000 litres," the manager of an Exxon Mobil petrol station in downtown Cairo told Ahram Online.

Of the eight petrol stations Ahram Online surveyed only two were actually pumping fuel, both with long queues of motorists waiting to fill their tanks.

"The tanker arrives at the station late at night and by 11 in the morning we have run out petrol," the Exxon Mobil manager added.

The petrol shortage is being felt by motorists using all types of octane – 80, 90, 92, as well as the more expensive 95. A shortage of cheaper diesel fuel has also been reported.

The real reason behind the supply shortage, however, is still unknown. Petrol station supervisors and officials alike have failed to give convincing explanations.

A supervisor at a Misr Petroleum petrol station downtown told Ahram Online that it is receiving a steady supply of petrol -- albeit lower quantity than usual -- and that its sales rate has rocketed.

"In regular times a daily supply of 20,000 litres of [octane] 92 fuel would suffice for a day's sales," the supervisor said. "But now it doesn’t even last two hours because of the shortages at other stations.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Egypt's minister of petroleum promised the resumption of regular supplies by Wednesday at the latest. A reminder of the pledge prompted laughter from Gomaa Abdel Azim, supervisor at an Esso station in central Cairo.

"I just called the head office and they told me we won't receive the full amount we requested," Abdel Azim said.

Petrol minister Abdallah Ghorab said that an extra three million litres of fuel are being injected into the market in order to contain the crisis that started last Sunday.

Ghorab blamed the fuel crisis on a wave of panic-buying and hoarding that followed rumours of serious petrol shortages. Petrol station staff, however, said the shortages were real and that buying patterns had been normal.

Ghorab went on to claim that, despite the rumours being false, some petrol station owners had raised prices and sold fuel on the black market.

The ministry of interior has been able to locate 400,000 litres of smuggled gasoline, 10,000 of it in Alexandria alone, he said.

The minister called on citizens not to believe the rumours and refrain from hoarding fuel. 

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