Fears of an oil shortage in Tripoli are making people's lives a "nightmare", forcing many to spend the night in their cars at petrol stations in a bid to be first in line to fill up their tank.

"I have been waiting in vain for three days to have fuel for my car," said Fuad Arabi, a doctor who works in one of Tripoli's hospitals.

"I live far from my work and if I do not get fuel, I can't get to work."

The authorities in the oil-rich country have moved to scotch rumours circulating in Tripoli that a fuel shortage is imminent, saying oil distribution companies had "large quantities" of the commodity.

But the assurances have not stopped endless queues from forming at petrol stations in the Libyan capital.

"It is a nightmare that is haunting the people of Tripoli," said Salema Gheryani, a 30-year-old teacher. "I have been queuing for four hours now."

Faisal Shami, a 50-year-old engineer, said he had to leave his car at the petrol station.

"I will not go to work tomorrow, but I will return here in the morning and hopefully I will be able to fill up my car," he said as he left a Tripoli petrol station. "It is the war. I am afraid things will get worse, and prices will soar."

The National Oil Corporation said last week that production had plummeted to 400,000 barrels per day as a result of the insurrection shaking the country for more than a month and spurring the mass evacuation of foreign workers.

Most oil companies operating in Libya, including France's Total and China's CNPC, have partly or completely shut down production since the uprising erupted against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya has the largest known oil reserves in Africa, and is the continent's fourth biggest producer.

The official JANA news agency has insisted that oil distribution companies say the large quantities of oil that they have would be enough to cover all demand.

Many people spend the night in cars waiting for their turn, as armed men stand guard at petrol stations to break up possible quarrels.

The crisis has led to a taxi shortage, too.

"I think I will stop working. I do not know how I will manage," said one taxi driver. "I have a large family, there are nine of us. How am I going to feed everyone?"

But Yusef Bash, 75, was optimistic. "The crisis will pass. The world will not stop because there is no petrol left," he said.

"We can live the same way we lived in the past. The most important thing now is the country. May God protect it and its people."

The Sunday Times reported today that the Maltese government last Wednesday intervened to stop a Libya-bound Malta-flagged vessel laden with fuel ordered by the Gaddafi regime.

The Breeze, a Greek managed tanker, was contacted and stopped by the Maltese authorities on route to the Libyan port town of Zawiyah.

The vessel had been loaded with some 25,000 tons of gasoline 95 – a refined fuel – at the Greek refinery Motor Oil (Hellas), after receiving an order from the Brega Petroleum Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the Libyan National Oil Company, which is on the UN sanctions list.

Earlier this month, supporters of the Libyan rebels in Malta insisted that a tanker at Malta Freeport should leave empty, after claiming that it was loading oil for Libya.


Meanwhile, a representative of the provisional government in eastern Libya said oil fields in rebel-held territory in Libya are producing between 100,000 and 130,000 barrels a day, and the opposition plans to begin exporting oil "in less than a week".

"We are producing about 100,000 to 130,000 barrels a day, we can easily up that to about 300,000 a day," said Ali Tarhoni, the rebel representative responsible for economy, finance and oil, at a news conference.

He said the rebel government had agreed an oil contract with Qatar, which would market the crude, and that he expected exports to begin in "less than a week".

Tarhoni said he had signed the contract with Qatar recently and that the deal would help ensure "access to liquidity in terms of foreign denominated currency".

"We contacted the oil company of Qatar and they agreed to take all the oil we export and market that oil for us," he said.

"We have an escrow account... and the money will be deposited in this account, and this way there is no middle man and we know where the money is going."

Tarhoni said the main obstacle to exporting oil would be finding shipping companies, and other representatives from the Provisional Transitional National Council opposition body have said they are having difficulty finding companies to insure oil tankers taking exports from rebel-held territory.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.