ISLAMABAD: Faced with an acute port congestion and fuel supply constraints, the ministry of energy is seeking berthing of oil vessels and their quality testing at the jetty of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) currently abandoned for well over seven years now.

Senior government officials told Dawn that the issue had been discussed in detail by secretaries of the petroleum division and industries and production and both sides agreed in principle to use PSM jetty to address port constraints. Relevant authorities have also been directed to work out technical arrangements.

Official documents suggest that due to narrowness of the channel at Port Qasim and absence of night navigation facilities, petroleum products vessels berthing was usually being delayed for want of required high tides and sailing of already berth vessels. “This constraint results in wastage of considerable time and limiting of vessel berthing frequency at Fauji Oil Terminal Company (Fotco) jetting.”

On the other hand, the PSM jetty in the vicinity remains idle most of the time and can be utilised for parking of petroleum product vessels at the outer anchorage during high tide. Accordingly, when a vessel at Fotco completes discharge and sails out, the vessel parked at Steel Mills Jetty can be easily berthed there.

Officials have agreed to use the jetty to address port constraints

“This arrangement can save around 8-10 hours in the process,” said a summary, adding that “the time for sampling and testing at Fotco jetty could also be saved and Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan (HDIP) could arrange sampling and testing of a cargo while parking at PSM jetty.

Officials said that sometimes 10-12 vessels had to wait in the deep sea because of port constraints which also increased demurrage costs that ultimately translate in the producing pricing. In many cases, the federal secretaries of port and petroleum have directly intervened to change berthing and discharge schedule of various vessels because of shortage of one or other product in the downstream across the country. This happens even though oil companies and their retail outlets exhaust their storages, resulting in pressure on petrol stations, like the one developed recently on the supplies of high-speed diesel in the peak of wheat harvest.

The sources said that while the latest move would temporarily resolve supply constraints, the government would have to urgently address port challenges. Official documents suggest that Pakistan’s two key oil importing facilities at Karachi Port and Port Qasim are facing extreme congestion.

“One of the main areas of concern is the constraints at the ports due to increasing traffic and the resulting congestion” but other obstacles also include limited storage facilities at ports, non-utilisation of a specialised oil pier, excessive sampling and testing times, use of oil piers by non-oil tankers and low pumping rates of oil and non-oil tankers, the official quoted a report as highlighting.

“The main constraint in the handling of cargoes at Keamari is inadequate storages of POL products, specially the storages for the fast increasing volumes of motor gasoline, commonly known as petrol,” the report said, advising the government to urgently build a new terminal at Port Qasim.

Generally, one tanker of 50,000 tonnes, maximum 65,000 tonnes, could be unloaded each week and “hence the limiting capacity of motor gasoline handling at Keamari on the basis of available storage be considered as 2.3 million tonnes per year (46 ships of 50,000 tonnes each)”, the official said.

In just six months, there was an additional waiting time of 274 days for ships at the outer anchorage and an extra 63 days on berth. Based on 160 available days in six months, this translates into about two ships of 36,000 tonnes capacity continuously providing additional operational storage to shore tanks.

The report has also highlighted the need for tremendously increasing storages at Keamari and also at the same time increasing imports of petrol. It has been reported that a ban on new tank construction at Keamari and land availability for this magnitude of storage development is also a big limitation at the port.

Simultaneously, it has been advised as a long-term solution to shift petrol transportation through white oil pipeline. The white oil pipeline is currently being used for transportation of high-speed diesel (HSD) from PQ to Mehmoodkot with almost half capacity utilisation which could be turned to dual-fuel (petrol and diesel) delivery.

Till such time, the petrol dispatches to upcountry destinations will continue through tank lorries only. “As the imports of petrol increase, traffic congestion on Karachi roads will become a major issue,” said the report advocating shifting of the bigger part of petrol imports to Port Qasim as Fotco jetty was away from Karachi city and close to Karachi exit points.

It said one of the main reasons for the bottlenecks at Fotco (PQ) was the use of the white oil pipeline as storage rather than a pipeline system. For example, in the fiscal year 2014-15, the pumping down time of white oil pipeline was just 134 days, meaning by that 134 days out of 335 days in a year pumping of this pipeline was stopped.

“The main reason of this storage is insufficient or no ullage (the amount by which a container falls short of being full) at Mehmoodkot for receiving HSD from Port Qasim”. This capacity constraint is because of bottlenecks in onward dispatches of HSD to local oil marketing firms.

To address this problem, the storage should be developed at Mehmoodkot so that Port Qasim storages remain free to receive HSD imports through tankers at Fotco. The report has also recommended utilising the capacity of Byco’s single point mooring facility for furnace oil imports and diversion of Hub Power Company’s fuel requirement through Byco pipeline instead of PSO’s tankers by restructuring the long-term contract between Asia Petroleum and the PSO.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2022

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