South Sinai residents have reported that organized gangs are smuggling state-subsidized fuel into the Gaza Strip and Israel through underground tunnels at the border.
The residents said that gangs are using advanced weapons to seize large quantities of subsidized fuel from filling stations and tanker trucks. The gangs then put the fuel in jerrycans or large tanks and sell them on the black market. According to the residents of South Sinai, 20 liters of smuggled diesel fuel now sells for 75 Egyptian pounds, as opposed to 25 pounds at the filling stations.
Sharm el-Sheikh is experiencing a stifling fuel crisis due to the effect of smugglers’ hoarding gasoline and diesel fuel that should have been in the city’s filling stations.
Ayman al-Banhawi, a driver for tourists, said that he has to wait in line for more than six hours to get gas. He blames the gangs who smuggle fuel to Gaza, Israel or for sale on the black market.
He said he witnessed fuel trucks being held up at gunpoint in the Wadi Sa’al area, and that their cargo was transferred into large tanks.
Mahmoud al-Hamamisa, who also drives tourists around the Sinai, also said that he has to wait long hours every day to fill up his car.
Hussein Sa’id, a Bedouin from Abu Dis, said that no one was able to control the fuel smugglers after the army returned to its barracks.
Mohammed Isma’il, a bus driver, said that the fuel crisis is disrupting the activity of tourist buses, and is harming the tourism industry.
Hussein Hijazi, owner of the Egypt Petrol gas station in Abu Zenima, attributes the crisis to two causes. First, there is a reduced amount of shipments from oil companies to the gas stations. He said his station used to receive 50,000 liters a day, but that now this number has dropped to between 16,000 and 32,000 liters. Second, he said smugglers from outside the province are taking fuel to the Gaza Strip through tunnels.
Ayman al-Zuheiry, the provincial secretary for the Freedom and Justice Party [affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood], said that fuel smuggling to Israel happens routinely with Israel’s tacit support, and that the smugglers take advantage of the province’s poor security and lax treatment on the part of authorities to continue their operations. Zuheiry also said that Israel allows the practice to go on so it can claim that President Mohammed Morsi has failed to deal with the crisis in the Sinai.
The province’s general supplies director, Tharwat Afifi, said that every day, the province receives about 500,000 liters of diesel fuel and 300,000 liters of gasoline. This is the highest volume ever, even though there is no construction, heavy machinery use or large-scale agriculture going on. He pointed out that smugglers in South and North Sinai collect the fuel in tanks and jerrycans from filling stations, either through the use of force or through fraud, such as by claiming that they have heavy equipment or agriculture needs. They then smuggle the fuel to the Gaza Strip or sell it on the black market. Sometimes they also hijack fuel trucks at gunpoint before the trucks reach the filling stations.
South Sinai security director Major-General Mohammed al-Hefnawi said that fuel smuggling only takes place in North Sinai, and that South Sinai’s entrances and exits are secure against smuggling. According to Hefnawi, there are places where fuel can only be transported in coordination with the province and the Directorate of Supply by boat or by using off-road motorcycles.