KARACHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Owners of Pakistani fuel tankers ended their protest strike on its third day on Wednesday, dispelling fears of a fuel shortage that had prompted long queues of panicked fuel buyers at petrol stations countrywide.
Pakistan has 10 to 11 days of oil stock reserves, media said, but many service stations were shuttered, and carried “Petrol Finished” signs, following panic buying in the nation of nearly 200 million people.
Tanker owners were protesting against police corruption and a new safety push by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) following one of the worst accidents in Pakistan’s history last month, a fuel tanker explosion that killed 216 people.
“The oil supply will resume by 4 p.m.,” said Yousaf Shiwani, president of the oil tankers’ association, adding that government officials had accepted the body’s demands to extend the timeframe to adopt the new safety measures.
As fears of a fuel shortage peaked, protesters in the southern port city of Karachi attacked tankers earlier on Wednesday, at least one of them appearing to involve gunfire.
“The latest attack took place this morning, in which the tanker driver suffered gunshot injuries,” Naseem Aftab, a spokesman for Pakistan State Oil, told Reuters, adding that three of the company’s tankers had been targeted.
Government officials say safety has to improve in a country where few trucks are roadworthy, posing a danger to the public.
Pakistan’s safety regulator suspected oil marketing companies were backing the strike and would “expose” the firms, its spokesman said.
“We will not allow this blackmailing,” OGRA spokesman Imran Ghazanvi told a news conference.
But the bribes continually demanded by motorway, traffic and excise police can prove ruinous, said Shamas Shiwani, vice-chairman of the All-Pakistan Tankers’ Association.
“A tanker driver has to pay so much in extortion that he hardly manages to keep his clothes,” he told Reuters.
Petrol stations in the Punjabi city of Multan had mostly exhausted stocks, media said, while Peshawar and other cities limited the value of fuel purchases to 1,000 rupees ($9.50) per car and 100 rupees per motorbike.
“It is better to fill the tank,” said Waseem Sheikh, one of hundreds queuing at a Shell petrol station in Islamabad, the capital. “I don’t want to face a hard time just because I don’t have fuel in my car.”
Last month’s accident in the eastern province of Punjab was triggered by a fireball caused by a leak from a tanker carrying fuel, killing villagers who had flocked around in hopes of salvaging some of the drips.
($1=105.1200 Pakistani rupees)
Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic and Saad Sayeed; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez