Monrovia — Hafina Hope presence at the LPRC pier on Monday gave onlookers, especially the management of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) some hope that for the next three weeks, vehicles do not have to queue for hours before getting gasoline - the scarcest product in Liberia over the past three weeks.
The vessel berthed at about 1pm on Monday with 19,000 metric tons making up for 6,327,506 gallons of gasoline and fuel.
The consignment contains 11,000 metric tons (4,025,000 gallons) of gasoline and 7,500 metric tons (2,302,500 gallons) of diesel fuel.
"We are pleased to communicate that Aminata and Sons purchased 4,000 metric tons/1,400,000 gallons of the gasoline onboard our vessel to ensure their stations are meeting customers' demand. In addition, Conex will be facilitating the sale of products to other Liberian importers and filing stations to help resolve the gasoline shortage on the market," Conex Petroleum Group of Companies stated in a release.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that Gboni, another local importer also has product on the ship.
According to Conex, it would work with the LPRC, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the National Port Authority and all stakeholders to ensure that petroleum products are offloaded in a timely manner and dispatched to various retail outlets.
FrontPageAfrica witnessed the berthing of Hafina Hope at the LPRC jetty. Mr. Trokon Kpui who heads the special presidential taskforce set up to investigate the gasoline shortage told FrontPageAfrica the government had to step in this time of crisis to ensure that there is an emergency supply.
He said being on the taskforce, there will be a recommendation for the removing of unnecessary bureaucracies in getting petroleum products in the country and getting petroleum ships to berth.
Mr. Kpui said there are a lot of factors responsible for the gasoline in the country and that would be detailed in a report to be submitted to the President on Friday.
However, he said the routine basis on which importers bring in petroleum into the country was interrupted by the need to dredge the port.
"Usually LPRC has importers bringing in fuel on the routine level, that was interrupted; every month maybe three importers will bring in fuel, sometimes four. But since September we have not had that particular number flow, so LPRC has been depending on the storage of petroleum product that have been within the tank," he explained.
He also linked the scarcity of gasoline in the country to the ongoing dredging at the port. According to him, depth of the port has been limited by silt within the channel, therefore, ships above certain depths cannot enter the port for safety reasons.
"NPA wrote a safety memo saying that if your ship is above is more than 10.5 meters, you cannot berth here because of safety reasons. We don't want ships coming and get grounded here, it will not be good for the country's image and you'll not have other ships coming in because the channel will be closed," he explained.
He said the vessel had to go to Senegal and Sierra Leone before berthing in Liberia as a means of reducing the weight before reaching Liberia.
The representative of Gboni which also had product on the ship told FrontPageAfrica that besides its 3,000 metric tons that arrived today on Hafina Hope, it's expecting about 8,000 metric tons which would arrive in the country by February 23 or 24.
Aminata's representative also disclosed that its 4,500 metric tons on the vessel would serve the public for about 10 days until their replenishment vessel arrives.
There was a standoff at the LPRC on Monday over where the vessel should berth. While government representatives insisted that the vessel discharged at the LPRC jetty, the suppliers had bound the ship for the BMC pier.
Mr. Kpui told FrontPageAfrica that it was necessary for the vessel to berth at the LPRC jetty so that the LPRC can take stock of the product and ensure that Aminata and Gboni who will be mainly serving the public have their product stored in an exclusive storage tank until the investigation is concluded.
Explaining the rigmarole of the berthing of the ship, Mr. T. Nelson Williams of Conex told FrontPageAfrica that the vessel was originally destined for the BMC pier but the government later requested that it berth at LPRC jetty. This, he said, was not initially communicated to the supplier. However, according to him, it was amicably settled after he explained to supplier the unfolding situation.
Last week, the government after negotiating with the Sierra Leonean government imported 15 tanker trucks of gasoline into to Liberia to help ease the impact of the shortage.
Mr. Siaka Toure, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Aminata & Sons Incorporated, a castaway of sorts whose business took a hit since the new government took over in January 2018.
On social media, many began singing Mr. Toure's praises, and hailing him as the one who had saved the day for the government.
Aminata was forced to clarify that although it had initiated negotiations with sellers and the government of Sierra Leone to buy and deliver products to Liberia, the effort could never have materialized without the intervention of the Weah administration. "We hereby used this medium to clarify that said gasoline was entirely paid for by the government of Liberia. Aminata & Sons Incorporated partnered with the government to transport the gasoline using our tankers."
The company says it remains not only a business entity but also a trusted partner to Liberia. "We will at all times work with the government of Liberia as we have done over the decades to serve the people of Liberia."
Due to the shortage, Mr. Toure had already began negotiating with his business associates in neighboring Sierra Leone when Liberian authorities came knocking.
"When this shortage started, we were given assurances, meaning Aminata was given assurance by LPRC that if we bring in product, it will be secured. Based on that assurance, we put in for a supply," Toure told FrontPageAfrica Sunday. "We loaded 5,000 metric tons on a vessel that was scheduled to arrive on the 9th of February to the 10th. Then, we later got to know that this vessel would be delayed by a week and would instead arrive on the week of the 16th. We also knew that the little product that was in the country could not supply during that week, it was a very serious week."
In a bid to avert the ongoing shortage, Toure explains he flew one of his staffers to Sierra Leone and started making negotiations to load trucks from Sierra Leone to Monrovia. "We lined up our trucks, we went to our Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone for Liberia and at that point, the ambassador says to us, he cannot give that laissez passer unless he hears from his government."
Fortunately, he said, he already had a staffer in Freetown. "We asked him to see the minister of trade which is equivalent to the minister of commerce and the minister took us to the chief minister who is either the vice president or the next person to the president in Sierra Leone."
At that level, the chief minister and the finance minister said to us that getting product from Sierra Leone in Liberia without the two governments' consent is considered smuggling - at that point."