Algerian smugglers send petrol to Libya, creating shortage at home
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One of our Observers has sent us images of gigantic lines of cars queuing at petrol stations in eastern Algeria. He explains that petrol is being illegally exported to Libya, causing a shortage in his region – which is rather ironic in a country that is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters.
Cars lined up in front of a petrol station. Screen grab from a video filmed by our Observer.
One of our Observers has sent us images of linesof cars queuing at petrol stations in eastern Algeria. He explains that petrol is being illegally exported to Libya, causing a shortage in his region – which is rather ironic in a country that is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters.
In Libya, demand for petrol has skyrocketed since the start of the civil war, spawning an extensive network of smugglers. Petrol is smuggled from Algeria through Tunisia to reach Libya, creating shortages in Tunisia as well. Shortages first hit Algeria several months ago, but they have gotten much worse in the past weeks.
Petrol shortages are rare in Algeria, which is the world’s 13th biggest oil producer and 9th biggest exporter. Petrol prices at the pump are among the cheapest in the world.
Governments in Tunisia and Algeria maintain that they are not supplying fuel to Libya, and that they are implementing U.N. sanctions. But they admit that it’s a challenge to control smuggling along Libya’s long porous borders with Algeria and Tunisia, borders which abut western Libyan territory that is largely under Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s control.
A long line of cars outside a petrol station in Tébessa. Video filmed by our Observer.
“There are no checks at the borders. The state does nothing”
Rida Soualmiya lives in Tébessa, an Algerian town 16 kilometers from the border with Tunisia.
Oil smuggling is not new in Algeria. There has always been some smuggling of oil drums, even in the east and south of the country. But over the past few months, the situation has become really serious.
At the beginning, smugglers here in eastern Algeria would go to gas stations and fill drums full of petrol. Now, they’re using more sophisticated methods. For example, they’ve got cars with double reservoirs, which they can fill up discreetly. For the most part, these smugglers are young and unemployed Algerians, who want to make a little money. They resell the petrol to middlemen who stock it in warehouses before selling it on the Tunisian border. The price of a litre triples along the way. Petrol that sells for 23 dinars [around 0.20 euros] at the gas pump is resold for 76 dinars [around 0.70 euros] at the border. From there, Tunisians transport the petrol to the Libyan border.
“Thankfully, we can still ride buses”
Petrol smuggling affects daily life in my city: there is less and less traffic and those who do drive spend hours in line at petrol stations. Taxi rides are three times more expensive than they used to be. Thankfully, we can still ride buses – they run on diesel, so the shortage hasn’t affected them.
In an attempt to curb smuggling, authorities have announced that it is now illegal to buy more than 600 dinars’ worth [around 6 euros] of petrol in one visit to the station. But there’s little enforcement. There are no checks at the borders. The state does nothing. Meanwhile, petrol station owners are benefiting from this situation. They don’t much care that their petrol is going into Libya’s cars.”
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.