The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport nearly plunged into a crisis last week following the shortage of jet fuel that saw airlines restricted from fuelling at the facility.
The move was blamed on oil marketers who ordered less fuel than the existing demand, hence creating a deficit.
The recent development, which was last witnessed in Kenya in 2014, brings to questions the reliability of private players to run a crucial sector of the economy and lack of a fuel reservoir to act as buffer in times of shortage.
The Kenya Pipeline Company, a state owned firm that manages the oil pipes and provide storage for fuel, argues that it is time the country established a reservoir for oil, just as it is the case with food reserves.
“The recent scenario highlights the importance of having an oil reservoir in the country to forestall supply challenges in the event of a shortage,” said KPC acting managing director Hudson Andambi.
Mr Andambi says the shortage would have been prevented if the oil marketers brought in sufficient stocks to meet the demand.
Oil marketers insist that the stocks they had ordered were sufficient to last until the next consignment.
However, KPC says the shortage was caused by low orders of jet fuel by oil marketing companies, compared to planned imports. For instance in January, the sector was alarmed when marketers placed an order of 37,000 tonnes despite a request of 60,000 tonnes.
Airlines at JKIA were last week forced to fly to regional airports for fueling following limited stocks of jet fuel at the airport that KPC had warned would be depleted by last Thursday .
Mr Andambi said the situation would have been worse were it not for the strike by Kenya Airports Authority employees that saw demand for jet go down. A similar scenario was witnessed in the country in 2014 where the government sought assistance for an emergency delivery of jet fuel from the neighbouring Tanzania.
An oil expert alleges that the fuel shortage might have been deliberately caused by marketers who would tend to have low stocks for accounting purposes.
“It is always a habit that oil marketers, especially the ones that are listed, to have low stocks at the end of the month, normally for accounting purposes,” says an expert who has worked with a multinational company, but sought anonymity.
The expert also argued that the marketers could be having much of the other type of fuel filled in the new pipeline, which could have impacted on their cash flow.
“The new line five must have taken about 70,000 tonnes of oil that had to be filled by the oil companies and this might have had an impact on the cash flow of the marketers,” he said.
The situation was normalised after a vessel carrying 115 million litres of jet fuel docked at the Port of Mombasa on Tuesday last week and started discharging fuel at 5pm.
According to KPC, the volume discharged has already been introduced into the line and has been pumped to the system, normalising the supply at the airport.
KPC said there is sufficient supplies of Jet A-1 to last for at least 11 days following the arrival the vessel in Mombasa last week.
“As of today (March 12, 2019), we have 26.2 million litres in the KPC Embakasi depot at JKIA. We will receive an additional 32 million litres to the same depot in the next six days as we move to spruce up our stocks at the busy airport,” said Mr Andambi.
“To ensure a steady supply of jet fuel in the days to come, we expect another vessel to deliver an additional 103 million litres of aviation fuel in the port of Mombasa on March 28,” he added.
Mr Andambi told Shipping and Logistics that they were writing to Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to withdraw the Notam ( a notice to airmen ) that had been issued during the shortage at the airport.
“Because the supply is now back to normal, we will be writing to KCAA so that they can lift the Notam that had been issued,” he said.