Conflicts & War

In Sri Lanka, black market for fuel thrives amid gasoline shortage

By Indira Guerrero and Aanya Wipulasena

Colombo, July 26 (EFE).- While hundreds of cars queue up for days in front of closed gas stations in Colombo, a cellar at the back of a funeral home serves as a storehouse for fuel, sold in soda bottles by three-wheeled rickshaw drivers running a black market.

A liter of fuel officially costs 470 Sri Lankan rupees ($1.30), but weeks ago gasoline stopped arriving in Sri Lanka, as it ran out of money to pay its suppliers.

Now, the country is having trouble buying new shipments as international distributors are convinced that the authorities in Colombo would not have the means to pay.

There are hardly any cars running in the capital, the trains are carrying almost twice their capacity, and the streets are populated with pedestrians.

The few buses plying on the roads are so overpacked that people have to hang from the doors.

“In a neighborhood nearby you get gas at 3,000 rupees (about $8),” said a driver waiting for tourists in front of a luxury hotel in central Colombo, and ready to direct people to the few places one can get gas.

Gas is readily available on the streets of Slave Island, a disadvantaged neighborhood in Colombo.

Even at night the rickshaws, a popular mode of transport, come and go, the shops are still open, and almost anyone in the area has a contact or “a friend” who sells for six times the official price.

Around 15 days ago, the government announced they had gas reserves for only one day, while three ships on the country’s coast waiting for payment before releasing the cargo.

The Ministry of Oil issues daily reports on the few shipments that arrive, for which they have been able to pay in cash.

Security forces distribute a few tokens for vehicles that offer essential services, tourism, or transportation.

Meanwhile, rickshaws wait for days for the arrival of fuel trucks at the stations, which once unloaded activate their black market system.

Multiple times a day, these drivers fill the small 10-liter tanks of their vehicles, and immediately unload them using hoses to stock up for resale.

Although the security forces monitor the stations, the police “write our names in a list, just for show, and then put their own people (to get fuel),” a taxi driver, who asked not to be identified, told EFE.

The traffickers driving two or three three-wheelers fill their full tanks.

“Then they empty it and go back to refill. If we go to say anything about it, they come to hit us,” said the driver, who has to visit Slave Island for his fuel supplies.

“Police knows it too but nothing is done about it yet,” he stressed.

In the black market, the price fluctuates between 2,500 and 3,000 rupees, depending on the demand and updates about the fuel supply.

With the sources of income hit by shortages, drivers have to go to the black market or wait for four days to fill gas, causing cabbies to almost double their rates.

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