Liberia's Gasoline Shortage - Tankers Unable to Berth At Free Port? NPA Denies

Monrovia — As petroleum products, mainly gasoline, remain scarce for almost a week in the country, sources have told FrontPageAfrica that the capacity of the facility which stores products at the Liberia Petroleum and Refinery Company has been reduced while delay in dredging the Freeport of Monrovia are two main factors causing the shortage on the market.

The draft at LPRC oil jetty has been reduced from 13 to 10, our source said, also adding that a tanker brought gasoline products last week into the country but was unable to berth and it went back. It is unclear what caused the impact on the jetty's capacity.

Also, CONEX, a private terminal operator which has a bigger draft, has limited storage capacity. CONEX has Petroleum products but only supplies Total - its biggest and most important client.

Concerns are heightening that if the Freeport of Monrovia is not dredged, it may prevent the docking of giant size vessels that often bring into the country essential products, consequently causing an economic crisis. The Freeport has not been dredged since 2012.

The National Port Authority has not officially responded to these speculations, but in a Sunday Facebook post apparently intended to respond to issue of the delay in dredging the port, the head of communications of the NPA, Malcolm Scott wrote that "the NPA is well on course with the required two years conventional dredging plans".

Wrote Scott: "The Port Management has since issued a release about an upcoming dredging... , in line with worldwide best approach. The current port management team has also said going forward; it will not allow the old age three to five years approach by the past government before dredging.

"Consistent with conventional best practices, no port in the region and or the around the world will venture in dredging during the rainy season especially when there are rising waves of oceanic depth that facilities easy berthing and navigation.

"Consequently, a save memo is often issued by Port Authorities whereby the berthing of vessels is logged on the basis of certain meters after such conditions to make way for dredging."

Gas Scarcity Continues

Meanwhile, the scarcity of petroleum products is expected to become acute for the second week running as Liberians across the country continue to form long queues at filling stations.

Many filling stations are without supply and the few that have products are overwhelmed with hundreds of customers throughout the day.

The ongoing scarcity of petroleum is expected to be the longest and worst in many years, FPA has gathered.

However, the Ministry of Commerce and the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company insist that there's no shortage of the product. They rather blame retailers for hoarding and hiking the price. In a statement last week, the government warned that violators will be penalized.

"Any importer, distributor, or retailer found hoarding or selling products above the stipulated price will be dealt with in accordance with the law," the LPRC Management cautioned in a statement.

Now, with the situation becoming quite alarming, the two main government agencies responsible for the availability and regulation of prices of the products are yet to comment as the hike in the price and scarcity remain lurking concerns for many ordinary Liberians.

Only a couple of Total and Super Petroleum filling stations in and around Monrovia and Paynesville cities have supplies albeit very limited. This has made the rush very intense at these stations prompting commercial drivers, who are sometimes lucky to purchase a few gallons, to double transportation fares.

Up until the weekend, owners of vehicles had to stay at filling stations more than the usual time to purchase gasoline. Queues are being formed up till the late evening hours and when buyers can't make a purchase some of them opt to leave their vehicles in the long queues, hoping they'll be served the next morning.

National Emergency

The situation is making many owners of vehicles grow even more frustrated by the day.

One taxi driver, who had stayed at a Total filling station in Paynesville for more than four hours, said the situation is becoming "almost like a national emergency".

"This is a complete embarrassment to us; it is very serious," said Jackson Sumo, a resident of Du Port road. "We have the money but we can't find gas; how are we supposed to feed our families when the driving taxi is all some of us are depending on?"

Next to Jackson stood Bill Bartee, a motorbike-taxi rider, who had also spent more than two hours in the queue.

"This is very bad for us the common people who are depending on driving [taxi] to feed our families," he ranted.

"Look, my brother! I have been here for over two hours and the people say no gas in the tank. They brought gas but everything has finished. What some of us will do now?"

Prices at these stations remain the government-approved prices of US$ US$3.80 and US$3.21 for diesel and gasoline respectively. But with the shortage becoming acute, other unlicensed retailers who had some supply before the shortage became quite noticeable are now hiking the price.

A gallon of gas is sold for as high as L$1,550 outside of these known stations. These retailers are expressing no fear for the government's caveat and some claim they go through difficulties to acquire the product.

Price Hiking on Black Market

"Why should the government come after us?" asked Sackie, a retailer, who sells from jerry canes. "Are we the ones causing the problem or LPRC?"

Sackie says he struggles to purchase gasoline from the "big gas stations" with the intent of selling to others who are in desperate need of a gallon or two.

"We are business people; who are looking for our daily bread. We are not rogues," he argued vehemently. "

"If the government is able to make sure plenty gas is in the country, then the price will not go up and people will not suffer."

Retailers like Sackie are known locally as "can-boys". Like Sackie argued, they often buy from filling stations and sell to drivers and motorcyclists. So, when a situation like this sparks, they are the go-to-guys in the black market to purchase petroleum. But the current situation is not favorable for many of them. Several 'Can-boys' have also been out of business in the past few days.

Meanwhile, as taxi drivers struggle to access petroleum, commuters are feeling the pinch. Transportation fares are doubling and in other parts of Liberia it is tripling thanks to the current scarcity.

Price Doubling

In Tubmanburg, Bomi County a gallon of gasoline is now sold for L$1,500 and L$1,600 in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County while in Nimba County is price ranges from L$900 to L$1,200.

In many rural communities, there are concerns that the prices of several other basic commodities will be affected by the increased in petroleum prices caused by the scarcity of the product.

Meanwhile, in Monrovia, the government's argument that there is a "sufficient quantity of diesel and gasoline supply" in the country to service the local market is causing many to look askance of the government's credibility in dealing with this seemingly economic crisis.

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