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Popular fuel pulled from petrol stations in South Africa over quality concerns

A number of service stations in the Southern Cape and Gqeberha were instructed by their suppliers early last week to stop selling unleaded 95 petrol (ULP 95) sourced from the Mossel Bay fuel terminal as a result of “quality concerns.”

Since October 2023, fuel retailers in the area have received complaints from motorists and other road users that the fuel type known as Mogas 95 was staining the paint on their vehicles if any spillage occurred whilst filling up, as per a Sunday Times report.

Heeding these complaints, Shell last week told the stations it supplies: “We regret to advise you of a potential product quality concern related to Mogas 95 supplied from the Mossel Bay terminal. As a precautionary measure and to allow us the opportunity to conduct further analysis, we are suspending all sales of the Mogas 95 grade in the [affected areas].”

“You are hereby requested to immediately lock out all VP95 nozzles at your Shell retail service station. We understand the impact of this decision and assure you that the matter is receiving our urgent attention. We remain committed to ensure the uninterrupted supply of quality fuels to all our customers and will share further details as more information becomes available.”

Select stations have since been notified that they may continue selling the Mogas 95 they have in storage tanks, while others are still unable to do so.

According to Shell, Engen, and other major fuel retailers, this issue has the potential to be an industry-wide phenomenon and may not be isolated to the south-coast regions.

These companies have subsequently been forced to source propellant from Cape Town and East London at a far higher cost than getting it from Mossel Bay.

The South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) in partnership with the Petroleum Oil and Gas Corporation of South Africa (PetroSA) is currently investigating the matter of corrosive fuels through random samples and testing.

“Sapia was made aware of the issue recently, by one of its members, who indicated that vehicles and containers of petrol (which include motorbike tanks and motorboat tanks) were being stained by the petrol,” said Sapia Executive Director Avhapfani Tshifularo.

“The issue has now been extended to other marketers of ULP in the region and also reported by some light aircraft enthusiasts.”

Fortunately, the executive noted that there shouldn’t be a shortage of ULP 95 in the affected areas as suppliers have several emergency interventions in place in case to ensure a continuous flow of fuel to motorists.

South Africa’s fuel regulation comes into question

South Africa’s capacity for fuel regulation has landed in the limelight numerous times in 2024, not once for good reason.

In January, it was found that at least 70 filling stations around the country were selling contaminated diesel at a lower price than their competitors for profiteering purposes.

These stations would water down diesel with illuminating paraffin as the liquids are subject to different taxes and levies, allowing them to sell the same volume of “fuel” at a larger profit margin.

Legal proceedings are currently underway to bring the implicated station owners to justice, and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, has vowed that his department will be conducting more random tests at various fuel stops around the country to assess the quality of their diesel and combat the contamination process.

However, industry bodies have warned motorists that there may still be service stations operating as usual selling dirty diesel, and that they should look out for suspiciously low pricing as a possible sign of this unlawful practice.

Following the contaminated fuel debacle, automakers including Ford, Toyota, and VW came forward and said that there are several vehicles they won’t bring to South African roads due to the country’s poor fuel standards.

“The declining refining capacity in South Africa has a knock-on effect on other sectors of the economy,” said PetroSA.

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