Long lines of trucks, filled with empty cooking gas tanks, wait outside NP at Sea Lots, Port of Spain on Wednesday. Photo by Jeff K Mayers
Dozens of truck drivers have been lining up in front of the National Petroleum (NP) distribution centre at Sea Lots, Port of Spain for several days hoping to refill thousands of cooking gas tanks to supply to customers.
The drivers, speaking with Newsday anonymously on Tuesday, said they have been going to NP since Thursday last week, but have met locked gates. Staff have been sent home because of the toxic fumes emanating from the Beetham landfill since it caught fire the night before and spread thick, black smoke throughout the city.
“I came and waited all day yesterday, and I came again today,” said one driver.
“It’s a sad thing. Trucks have been backed up to the highway waiting for days.”
Another driver said while he understands NP workers should not have to work under hazardous conditions, workers should return to the plant now that the smoke has cleared.
“The plant locked up since 8 am. We are sitting here waiting for them. It’s been excuse on top of excuse and we’re waiting. When it has smoke, we understand. We can’t go against them, and we must give them the benefit of the doubt.”
There was still a small fire at the landfill when Newsday visited, but the smoke was not affecting the NP distribution centre as much as in previous days.
On Tuesday morning, drivers were told evening shift staff would come out at 1 pm. However, the plant remained closed.
“If we don’t sell gas, we don’t get paid. Customers are threatening to buy from other producers like Ramco. We can’t afford to lose customers.”
Contacted for comment, NP’s acting CEO John Gormandy said consumers should not worry about a shortage of cooking gas, especially with Easter weekend approaching.
“We have measures in place. The public has absolutely no need to panic,” he said. “The situation is beyond our control, and we sincerely apologise. It is an unfortunate situation. It will be a minimal inconvenience for some, but we are working arduously to rectify it.”
He said the company has been keeping distributors updated on the situation. NP has also been constantly monitoring the air quality which has registered as hazardous on some days and moderately hazardous on others.
“Once the air quality improves, we will reopen.”
He said they NP has been working with the Pointe-a-Pierre Paria Fuel Trading Company to meet supply demands, and the number of shifts have been increased to provide fuel and serve north and south service stations.
“The challenge is that fires keep resurfacing. As recently as this morning there were two more fires. We have been working with SWMCOL (the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd) and fire services for a speedy response to the situation.”
The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) released data on its social media platforms on Tuesday which indicated the air quality in Port of Spain was still unhealthy.
It said there was an increasing likelihood of respiratory symptoms in sensitive groups including older adults, children, and people with respiratory ailments and allergies. Aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in people with heart or lung disease was also a risk.
Gormandy said, until then NP has backup systems in place, including partnering with Ramco to distribute its products.
One distributor told Newsday it sells 1,800 20lb cylinders and 162 100lb cylinders in a day and was told that Ramco did not have enough tanks to meet its supply needs.
Another service station owner in east Trinidad said he had not received tanks since last week Thursday and is hoping the situation will be rectified by tomorrow.
President of the Petroleum Dealers Association Robindranath Naraynsingh said he was aware of the situation, and smaller community gas stations are the ones being affected the most. He said one of his gas stations in St Helena has been out of stock for the past few days.