CARACAS/PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Grumbling Venezuelans were lining up for scarce gasoline across the OPEC nation on Wednesday, due to mounting oil industry woes in the country with the world’s largest crude reserves.
Venezuela, which also has the world’s cheapest gasoline, has wrestled with intermittent gasoline shortages in recent months, especially in the central coastal area.
Long lines were reported in capital Caracas, which is unusual, and the eastern city of Puerto Ordaz on Wednesday. Dozens of cars could be seen snaking into streets and some service stations were shuttered.
“I can’t find 95 octane gasoline anywhere. And we’re an oil-producing country! It’s pathetic,” said Jose Paredes in Caracas’ wealthy Altamira district.
The waits heap extra hardship on the nation of 30 million, where many already jostle for hours in hot lines for food and medicines amid product shortages caused by a brutal economic crisis under leftist president Nicolas Maduro.
State oil company PDVSA’s new head of trading blamed the shortages on problems with internal shipping of products and vowed the issue would be solved soon.
“We’re strengthening deliveries to the center of the country to stabilize gasoline supplies,” Ysmel Serrano tweeted.
The gasoline shortage comes as new top executives are appointed at PDVSA, largely from political and military quarters, and increasing problems in Venezuela’s oil industry.
As of March 22, about a dozen tankers were waiting around PDVSA ports in Venezuela and the Caribbean to discharge refined products, components, and diluents crucial for oil blending, Reuters vessel tracking data showed.
Backlogs and payment delays to PDVSA’s suppliers, which are now demanding to be prepaid, sometimes mean shippers wait weeks to deliver oil products.
And many tankers are idle because PDVSA cannot pay for hull cleaning, inspections, and other port services, according to internal documents and Reuters data.
Union leader Ivan Freites, a PDVSA critic, said Venezuelan refineries, which have been at around half capacity for months amid outages, only had oil inventories for around two days versus a standard of 15.
“To solve this immediately, we would need deliveries from at least 10 tankers,” he said.
In Venezuela’s industrial city of Puerto Ordaz, the problem has been increasing this week and National Guard soldiers were trying to maintain order at operational service stations.
“We’ve been working extra hours, opening before 6 a.m and closing after 11 p.m. because of the lines,” said Caura service station manager Felix Rodriguez, tired and with blood-shot eyes, adding he had not been given a reason for the slow deliveries.
Additional reporting by Johnny Carvajal and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas, Marianna Parraga in Houston and Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Bill Rigby