Importance of stamping out fuel adulteration mafia

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Sri Lankans are today caught in a vicious trap of fuel shortages.It all started with a delay in processing a batch of fuel supplies due to a paucity of dollars in the Government’s control.

Thus, a shortage developed, which is now worsening day by day with little sign of abating. Because of the persistent long lines for fuel islandwide and at each fuel distribution station, many temporary jobs are created, as well as rackets.

These long queues encourage fuel hoarding, which leads to the creation of a black market, which, in turn, causes the long lines to get longer day by day as a result of the black market’s impact.

Unless people begin to think selflessly and politicians promise to speak the truth, the cycle will never cease. Until politicians stop lying, people will continue to stockpile. Sri Lankans have learned to survive, legally or illegally.

Adulterated fuel exposed?

Adulteration is defined as the illegal or unauthorised introduction of a foreign substance into fuel or a similar substance, with the result that the product does not conform to the requirements and specifications of the product. The foreign substances are also called adulterants, which when introduced alter and degrade the quality of the base transport fuels.

Fuel is a major transport need in Sri Lanka. Adulteration of the fuel at the point of sale and during transportation has become an acute problem in the country. Transport fuels are often adulterated with other cheaper products or by-product or waste hydrocarbon stream for monetary gains. For example, diesel is widely adulterated with kerosene.

Motorists in Sri Lanka are reacting to an exposé of adulterated fuel found from tankers, including some contracted to fuel, in a new development that was not entirely unexpected, even as fuel prices continue to rise.

Investigations recently revealed that some people collect fuel mix petroleum products with other liquids in order to sell them at a higher price, and Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera urged the public to report these businesses rather than encourage them.

“Investigations have found that certain individuals are engaged in gathering fuel and are combining petroleum products with other liquids to sell at higher rates. We ask the people not to support these businesses and to report them,” he said.

Meanwhile, investigations have revealed that a third party is combining diesel with kerosene and selling it in the illicit market at exorbitant prices, according to Ministry Secretary K. Mapa Pathirana. When asked if the scenario has developed as a result of the country’s ongoing petrol queues, he replied that individuals should cease waiting in fuel lines for business reasons. “In the fuel lines, there are businesses going on. It exacerbates public tension and lengthens queues,” he explained.

Is there a surge in the use of dangerous substances?

As civilians in Sri Lanka continue to struggle for fuel, the Police have arrested at least 137 people islandwide for unlawfully hoarding petrol, diesel, and kerosene. 429 raids were undertaken, yielding 27,000 litres of petrol, 22,000 litres of diesel, and 10,000 litres of kerosene. According to sources, the raids were conducted in response to complaints of persons unlawfully storing fuel after obtaining it from filling stations and selling it at higher prices. Meanwhile, the Police have requested the public to call 118, 119, or 1997 to report illegal fuel sales.

Police Spokesman, SSP Nihal Thalduwa stressed there have been allegations of hoarders combining different components with the fuel before selling it. He added that the Police are investigating the situation and conducting raids in collaboration with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. The public should avoid buying illegally-stored fuel, according to the Police Spokesperson, because it might be dangerous.

What’s the point of hoarding?

Some motorbike and three-wheeler owners queue to buy fuel, then store the fuel in tanks and cans, then queue again to refill because petrol stations no longer fill cans and bottles with fuel.

It has been said as a result, it is now difficult for others to obtain fuel. Many people are unable to obtain fuel due to fuel hoarding, which has caused fuel stations to run out of fuel.This has opened the door to black market smugglers to sell their tainted goods.

How are the adulterated substances made?

So, how simple is it to obtain illegal fuel? Ceylon Today learns that in rural areas, cheap diesel and inexpensive fuel are supplied in long queues. The majority of these crooks target rural areas rather than Colombo.

When approached by a blackmarket businessman about purchasing fuel, one of the racketeers said five litres of diesel would cost only Rs 1,500 and five litres of petrol would cost only Rs 1,300. This is about Rs 250 less than what you would pay at the pump. Then, fuel was poured into cans, and cash was paid, with no receipt.

With the increased availability of tainted fuel in the market, mechanics in Colombo and surrounding areas have complained that they are receiving numerous complaints from motorcyclists and most three-wheeler owners, who claim that their vehicles are malfunctioning.

When asked how many times he has heard motorists complain about filling their tanks with unclean fuel, resulting in an expensive trip to the mechanic, a mechanic said he hears these complaints almost every day, and the reality lies in the quality of the fuel people put in their vehicles.

“Adulterated fuels are polluted fuels or fuels in which quality has been compromised by the addition of inferior fuels. The most common kind of fuel adulteration is the addition of kerosene or diesel to petrol.

“We do not have any information on how many people come to our garage for the purpose of utilising contaminated fuel, but rising fuel prices and long lines have driven some action to increase adulteration.

“This thriving business has resulted in significant income losses, engine part deterioration, and higher pollution levels that are damaging to our environment,” he said.

Another technician in Nuwara Eliya, speaking on the same subject, indicated that using contaminated fuel has resulted in engine faults, component failure, and compromised safety.

High sulphur levels in kerosene, he claims, hinder the conversion characteristics of engine pollutants on catalysts, resulting in engine deposit development and engine knocking. Pollution and additional soil degradation result from poor fuel handling at adulteration stations.

The mechanics warned against buying fuel from unlicensed sources, as tainted fuel will swiftly ruin the vehicle’s engine. If the vehicle’s engine is damaged, it will need to be sent to a garage for an expensive service, which may necessitate the replacement of some parts.

 However, because Sri Lanka restricts vehicle and part imports, purchasing a single vehicle part might be more expensive than waiting in a fuel line for hours.

They recommended that people buy fuel from authorised sources to guarantee the safety of both motorists and vehicles.

Residents in numerous places report that a black market has emerged, selling bottles of petrol at exorbitant prices, ranging from Rs 800 to Rs 850, while three-wheelers and motorcyclists wait. Many petrol stations receive fuel three times per week, trapping people in two- to three-kilometre-queues. Therefore, black marketeers prey on stranded three-wheeler drivers and motorbike riders, charging high amounts for fuel.

Businessmen that sell fuel at black market prices, pay a rent, and put people in fuel lines three to four times a day to collect fuel and  abuse the public immensely. Police have caught people selling fuel in the illegal market in a number of locations. Consumers allege that the scam is being carried out swiftly in some places.

Long queues for fuel have led to new jobs being created in a number of fields. To buy petrol, diesel, or kerosene, people in the country must presently queue for two to three kilometres and wait for four to five hours.

Many people are unable to wait in line and must instead pay between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000 per day for someone else to wait and satisfy the demand. People queuing for fuel include those who work in jobs such as masonry, renting, and driving three-wheelers on a daily basis. Whether or not they receive fuel, they must be paid for the time period in question. These new roles are presently being applied for by people from all walks of life.

A device that extracts petrol from car fuel tanks is in high demand right now, and it’s built in China and hasn’t been utilised in a long time.

Shopkeepers also claim that some people who buy fuel in lines leave, remove the fuel with the equipment, refill it into containers, and then return to the line.

Criminals who sell, and the motorists who buy, are depriving the Government of much-needed funds.

“The loss of revenue affects how the Government works,” he said.

“It hits everyone’s pocket.”

By Thameenah Razeek