Drivers' anger grows as fuel shortages worsen

Shortages in Sharjah and the Northern Emirates widen as more petrol stations are shut down for upgrades.

Sharjah , United Arab Emirates-  May  30, 2011:  Closed Eppco Gas Station near Tawun Mall in Sharjah . ( Satish Kumar / The National )
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SHARJAH // Drivers complained that fuel shortages in the northern Emirates were "getting out of hand" yesterday as petrol station closures spread from Sharjah and Ajman to Umm al Qaiwain.

Several Eppco and Enoc stations were closed in Umm al Qaiwain. Emarat stations in Sharjah, including those on Corniche Road, Al Khan Road and Sheikh Zayed Road near the Sharjah Clock Tower, erected barriers with signs saying they were closed for maintenance.

"We have had a lot of traffic, almost selling double what we used to sell before," said a petrol attendant at Emarat on Corniche Road. "This is probably the reason we run short of fuel at night. I found the place cordoned off with barricades for maintenance when I came for my shift this morning."

All the Emarat petrol stations had refuelled and resumed work by midday yesterday, but many drivers were already frustrated.

"How on earth could Eppco, Enoc, Emarat and al Hirra filling stations all close out for maintenance at the same time?" asked one angry motorist who identified himself as Ahmed from Syria.

He said he had tried - and failed - to find fuel at more than five petrol stations yesterday morning: "I now have to switch off my AC and lower my windows to save on that last drop that will get me to an Adnoc station and keep me in the queue."

The fuel companies say their petrol stations are being closed temporarily for upgrades to dispensing equipment, but some drivers said they thought this could not be the only reason.

Ayman al Hajj, 40, said he suspected retailers were trying to pressure the Government into authorising another fuel price increase. “Every time they have increased fuel prices it followed some kind of shortage,” he said.

The Eppco and Enoc spokesman Khalid Hadi said the reasons for the shortage remained the same: as some stations shut down for upgrades, other stations faced more demand volume than they could handle.

“A lot of our customers in Sharjah are coming to our stations in Dubai, which has created even more pressure on our network,” Mr Hadi said.

“We are trying to secure more products to the sites in Dubai, especially those which are closer to the borders. We haven’t seen much of a sales drop in terms of fuel.”

He said several stations in Dubai had sold out of fuel as a result of the heightened demand.

“Maybe only one or two stations in Dubai [sold out], and only then for one or two hours maximum. This is because of the volume being shifted from Sharjah to the Dubai side, especially the stations nearest the border.”

Mr Hadi said the installation of improved dispensing equipment was continuing as planned and would take several months to complete. He said none of the upgrades, which were started two weeks ago in Sharjah, had yet been completed.

“Work is still ongoing,” he said.“Aside from Sharjah and Ajman, we have also started work on stations in Umm al Qaiwain and Fujairah.”

Some drivers said that was not reassuring and the shortages were starting to impact on businesses.

“The fuel shortage in Sharjah is now getting out of hand. It’s costly to businesses as we are spending production hours queueing for fuel,” said Ali al Hillal, 35, from Iraq.

Emarat could not be reached for comment.

* With additional reporting by Martin Croucher