| June 2, 2008

No laughing matter

In addition to accelerated vehicle wear and tear, transportation companies operating in Africa incur another expense that their counterparts in Europe and the United States seldom have to take into account—fuel theft by drivers. The driver will stop and sell small quantities of diesel to villagers, who siphon it out of the fuel tank into a drum.

There are plenty of takers. At frequent intervals, we encounter people waving jerry cans alongside the road, soliciting a sale.

The quantities per sale are relatively small—the disappearance of 20 liters from a 1,000-liter gas tank will go unnoticed—but they add up quickly when you take into account the number of drivers and trips. In a back-of-the-envelop calculation, Guy Harvey reckons that Transcom Sharaf loses about $350,000 per year to fuel theft. “And that’s a conservative estimate,” he says.

Fuel theft is difficult to prevent. When the company fitted its fuel tanks with anti-siphoning devices, drivers used the breather hole instead. One driver reportedly even diverted his truck’s fuel lines to a drum in his cabin, filling it up drip by drip.

It’s a cat and mouse game, and the drivers always seem to be one step ahead. “These guys spend a long hours alone on the road, says Guy Fawcett, managing director of Transcom Sharaf Malawi. “They have lots of time to come up with ways to divert fuel.”

But the driver is not always to blame. Alex recalls a trip to Congo, when a young boy asked him to fill a small Coca-Cola bottle with diesel to use for lighting at his home. Alex took pity but quickly regretted his generosity. As was filling the bottle, the entire village lined up with drums and cans, and some of the men indicated that refusal would not be an option.

He lost 500 liters of diesel that day.

Me too.

Category: Breaking News

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