Reasons for Gas Shortage: ‘Port Dredging’, ‘Importer Challenges’?

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(From left): Minister of Commerce, Prof Wilson K Tarpeh; LPRC Managing Director, Marie Urey-Coleman; and LPRC’s Deputy Director General for Operations, Bobby Brown

House apparently not buying explanations of gas shortage by LPRC, Commerce Ministry, Speaker sets up investigative committee 

The crippling shortage of gasoline in the country, which led to the unsanctioned hike of transportation fares, upsurge of darkness, wadding of hundreds of vehicles coupled with long queues of vehicles and motorcycles in hunt for gas, has been blamed on the much needed dredging of the Free Port of Monrovia, which restricts bigger vessels from docking.

Mrs. Marie Urey-Coleman, the Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), told members of the House of Representatives in session on Tuesday, February 4, that the current shortage of gasoline across the country is due to the inability of ‘large vessels’ to dock at the port but rather at high tides (high seas). She, therefore, apologized for the embarrassments and inconveniences the shortage of petroleum product is causing in the country.

Mrs. Coleman said the supply of gasoline for February-2020 should have been brought in the country in December-2019, but the APM Terminals’ new regulation on the size of ships that would be allowed to dock at the Port of Monrovia has hampered the ‘large tanker (vessel)’ of docking at the port.

“Because of the restriction on large vessels, in January the Old Jetty Terminal was renovated and now is known as New Jetty Terminal to allow small vessels to download gasoline from the large vessel and then dock at the New Jetty Terminal,” Mrs. Coleman said.

“A Small vessel has been transporting gasoline from the large vessel at high seas and bringing it to the New Jetty Terminal.”

She pointed out that the taking of gasoline from the large vessels by the smaller vessels is causing economic problems between the two large importers — TOTAL Liberia and Super Petroleum (SP) — and the trickle down effect is on the minor or small importers.

The LPRC boss insisted that there is enough gasoline in country for the month of February, and would let the House of Representatives to investigate their assertions. Mrs. Coleman was accompanied by Bobby Brown, LPRC’s Deputy Director General for Operations and the Minister of Commerce, Professor Wilson K. Tarpeh. Prof. Tarpeh told the House of Representatives that the Ministry of Commerce is tasked among many responsibilities to maintain rigorous surveillance on ‘essential products’ and as well as ensure that their prices are stable.

He named some of the essential products as biscuits, building materials, cement, petroleum products and rice. He explained that 4.5 million gallons of gasoline are used monthly in the country, while 2.9 million gallons of diesel is also used monthly. 2.6 million gallons of kerosene, he added, are consumed and the usage of gallons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) per month is unknown because its hugely imported for use by the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC).

Prof. Tarpeh indicated that the announcement about there being sufficient gasoline in the country was due to the ‘stock’ the Ministry took, but realized that there are economic challenges with the two major importers to distribute the gas. The House’s investigation into the shortage of gasoline across the country was prompted by a communication from River Gee lawmaker Alexander Poure.

He complained about the extreme difficulties for gasoline amid reports by the Ministry of Commerce that there was enough gasoline in the country. It has been reported that APM Terminals dredges the port every two years for maintenance and, because of that, it has therefore issued a new regulation on the size of ships that would be allowed to dock at the Free Port.

According to APM Terminals, while it understands the operational implications of the restriction, its decision is geared towards preventing a disaster that could have higher negative commercial and operational impacts on all stakeholders. The new restriction was directed to all shipping lines and agencies due to the growing siltation in the port entrance channel and to ensure safety for navigation within the port channel.

The directive further stated: APM Terminals will only be able to dock and undock vessels with a maximum draft of 10 meters. Vessels above 10 meters draft will not be able to berth/ball. All vessels with a draft between 9.5 and 10 meters will have to strictly dock at high tides; all vessels with a draft below 9.5 meters will be able to dock at any time provided that they have a beam smaller than 28 meters; all vessels with a beam larger than 28 meters will have to dock at high tide irrespective of their draft.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers has set up a Specialized Committee comprising of 21 lawmakers to investigate the causes of the shortage of gasoline to ascertain whether or not there is sufficient gasoline in the country.

The management of LPRC and major importers are part of the investigation. The motion was proffered by Rep. Johnson Gwaikolo. Those on the Specialized Committee are Rep. Zoe Pennue (chairman – Grand Gedeh); Rep. Jeremiah Koung (Co-chairman – Nimba); Rep. Johnson Gwaikolo (Member – Nimba); Rep. Dorwohn Gleekia (Nimba); Rep. Yekeh Kolubah (Member – Montserrado); Rep. Dixon Seeboe (Montserrado); Rep. Abu Kamara (Montserrado); Rep. Jimmy Smith (Montserrado); Rep. Richard Koon (Montserrado); Rep. Isaac Roland (Maryland); Rep. J. Mike Jurry (Maryland); Rep. Ellen Attoh-Wreh (Margibi); Rep. Clarence Gahr (Margibi); Rep. Moima Briggs-Mensah (Bong); Rep. Edward Karfiah (Bong); Rep. Kanie Wesso (Gbarpolu); Rep. Alfred Koiwood (Gbarpolu); Rep. Emerson Kamara (Grand Cape Mount); Rep. Alexander Poure (River Gee); Rep. J. Nagbe Sloh (Sinoe) and Rep. Byron Zahnwea (Rivercess). The House Specialized Committee is expected to report within a week.

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I am a Liberian journalist, born November 7 and hailed from the Southeast and of the kru tribe. I began contributing to the Daily Observer 2008 and was fully employed in 2012. I am the 3rd of eight children and named after my great grandfather. Am happily married with three children (girls). I am a full member of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and also the Sports Writers Association of Liberia (SWAL) and the Legislative Press Pool (LEGISPOL). I can be contacted through email: [email protected] or cell number/WhatsApp: (+231) 0886585875 or Facebook.

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