A strike by Pakistani fuel tanker owners entered a third day on Wednesday, with panicked buyers forming huge queues around petrol stations in the capital Islamabad and across the country.
Local media reported Pakistan has 10-11 days of oil stock reserves, but many service stations were shuttered with “Petrol Finished” signs after panic buying overnight in a nation of nearly 200 million people.
The tanker owners are protesting police corruption and a government move to improve safety following a fuel tanker disaster last month, when a tanker explosion killed more than 200 people in one of the worst accidents in Pakistan’s history.
“It is better to fill the tank,” said Waseem Sheikh, one of hundreds of people waiting at a Shell petrol station in capital Islamabad. “I don’t want to face a hard time just because I don’t have fuel in my car.”
Shamas Shiwani, Vice Chairman All Pakistan Tankers Association, told Reuters the motorway, traffic and excise police always demand bribes so a “tanker driver has to pay so much in extortion that he hardly manages to keep his clothes”.
A new safety push by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) following the tanker explosion in Punjab last month has made matters worse, Shiwani added.
Government officials say safety has to improve in a country where many trucks are not road worthy and pose a danger to the public.
Imran Ghazanvi, spokesman for OGRA, said the regulator suspected oil marketing companies were backing the strike and would “expose” the firms.
“We will not allow this blackmailing,” he told a press conference on Tuesday.
More talks with tanker owners are scheduled for Wednesday.
Petrol stations in the Punjabi city of Multan had mostly run out of fuel, local media said, while in Peshawar and other cities rationing petrol purchases were limited to 1,000 rupees ($9.50) per car and 100 rupees per motorbike.
The government has been trying to enact tougher safety regulations following the June 25 disaster.
A tanker carrying fuel rolled over in the Punjab province and villagers rushed to collect leaking fuel. Something then set off a fireball.
At least 216 people were killed at 61 injured.
($1 = 105.1200 Pakistani rupees)