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Worries over fuel shortages in South Africa as major refinery is forced to close

JOHANNESBURG, (The Southern African Times) – South African Petroleum Refineries (Sapref) has declared force majeure and announced a temporary closure due to the ongoing violence and looting in South Africa.

Situated in Kwazulu-Natal, Sapref is the largest crude oil refinery in the country with 35% of South Africa’s refining capacity. It is a joint venture between Shell Refining SA and BP Southern Africa.

In a letter issued on Tuesday evening (13 July), Sapref said that it has been obliged to make the difficult decision to shut down the refinery due to the violence.

“As a result of the (unrest), Sapref hereby declares the occurrence of an event of force majeure, excusing Sapref from performing under the agreement,” it said.

“Due to the civil unrest in the country and disruption of supply routes in and out of Kwazulu-Natal, suppliers of materials critical to Sapref operations communicated the suspension of deliveries to the refinery due to safety concerns for their staff and damages to their vehicles on the roads.”

The Automobile Association has warned that South Africa could face fuel shortages in the next few days due to the closure.

There have been sporadic reports of petrol stations running out of fuel in Gauteng and KZN.

However, AA spokesperson Layton Beard has called on the public not to panic at this stage, saying there is still enough fuel at the moment.

The ongoing looting is expected to lead to other supply chain issues, and South Africans will also face major food shortages in the wake of days of violent unrest across two key provinces, as rioters upend supply chains by looting supermarkets and torching goods trucks, Bloomberg reported.

In parts of Durban, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal city at the centre of the upheaval, long queues formed outside the few open food shops and basics such as bread and milk were in short supply.

“Food is going to be a problem because shops haven’t been open for three days and many with bulk storage have been looted,” said Gavin Hudson, chief executive officer of sugar producer Tongaat Hulett, which has suspended milling and refining operations outside the city.

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