Although the country has faced a severe oil supply crisis in recent months, the oil industry and the federal ministries have been fighting over allocation of berthing rights for oil import vessels for the last six months.
Informed sources said the situation came to light when the directorate general of oil (DG-Oil) recently renewed giving instructions for berthing schedule to oil imports and then asked the Oil Companies Advisory Council (OCAC) — an association of oil marketing companies and refineries — to issue berthing instructions as per old standard operating procedures (SOPs).
The OCAC protested over the repeated changes and feared it could be blamed for any adverse situation arising out of such confusions. The problem also exacerbates due to non-availability of berthing facilities and port congestion.
Around two months ago, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Petroleum Nadeem Babar had informed Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi that one of the oil piers (OP-III) at Keamari had been non-operational since June 29, 2018, while the availability of OP-1 was confirmed by the Karachi Port Trust in February 2020, but it had not berthed any vessel at OP-1 since March 2020. Resultantly, only OP-II was operational, he added.
Secondly, he said, the bellow installed at Fauji Oil Terminal Company (Fotco) jetty was also damaged and irreparable. As a result, Fotco is operating the line at slower pressure till the replacement of the bellow that may take three to four months.
The SAPM had sought personal intervention of the maritime affairs minister in expediting repair or reconstruction work on both dysfunctional oil piers at the earliest and till such time OP-II be dedicated for berthing of oil vessels. Intervention was also sought in replacement of the Fotco facility with a new bellow or taking other steps to reduce vessel berth occupancy time.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs wrote early last month to the stakeholders concerned that it did “not acknowledge/recognise the role of Oil Companies Advisory Council as it has no force of law behind it and Port Qasim Authority (PQA) or Fauji Oil Terminal Company is not under any obligation to follow the dictates of OCAC”.
The ministry said that under the amended Pakistan Merchant Policy, the PQA had already been categorically told that national flag vessels would be given priority berthing at all Pakistani ports.
The OCAC, on the other hand, said it had been mandated by the oil industry to carry out the scheduling of petroleum product vessels berthing on their behalf for the past 50 years or so based on the industry’s protocols, stocks and ullage of refineries and OMCs (oil marketing companies) at Port Qasim, Keamari and depots and terminals throughout the country.
The OCAC demanded that its berthing instructions must be followed, especially in the light of recent diesel and petrol shortage in the country. “Any unilateral berthing decisions by Fotco could have serious implications on the supply chain or petroleum products in the country,” it said.
The OCAC also put on record that it was asked by the Ministry of Energy to issue berthing instructions to port authorities as per its berthing SOPs, but DG-Oil had been issuing unilateral instructions between April 28 and June 26 despite reservations expressed by the oil industry.