ISLAMABAD - Owners of Pakistani fuel tankers ended their protest strike on its third day on Wednesday, dispelling fears of a fuel shortage that had prompted long queues of panicked fuel buyers at petrol stations countrywide.

The announcement by All Pakistan Oil Tankers Owners Association (Apota) of ending its strike came following ‘successful talks’ with the government.

Petroleum Secretary Sikandar Sultan Raja was led the government side in negotiations while Apota Chairman Yousaf Shawani piloted the oil tankers representatives.

Tanker owners were protesting against police corruption and a new safety push by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) following one of the worst accidents in country’s history last month.

The accident near Bahawalpur city of Punjab was triggered by a fireball caused by a leak from a tanker carrying fuel, killing 216 people – mostly villagers, who had flocked around in hopes of salvaging some of the drips.

Pakistan has 10 to 11 days of oil stock reserves, but many service stations were shuttered during the strike and carried “Petrol Finished” signs, following panic buying in the nation of nearly 200 million people.

“The oil supply will resume by 4pm,” said Apota chief Yousaf Shiwani, adding that government officials had accepted their demands to extend the timeframe to adopt the new safety measures.

Government officials say safety has to improve in a country where few trucks are roadworthy, posing a danger to the public. The crises came as Ogra pushed for implementation of safety rules that were framed in 2009 but were never implemented.

Pakistan’s safety regulator suspected oil marketing companies were backing the strike and said they would be ‘exposed’. “We will not allow this blackmailing,” Ogra spokesman Imran Ghazanvi told a news conference.

But APOTA vice-chairman Shamas Shiwani said the bribes continually demanded by motorway, traffic and excise police can prove ruinous. “A tanker driver has to pay so much in extortion that he hardly manages to keep his clothes,” he said.

Petrol stations in Multan had mostly exhausted stocks, media said, while Peshawar and other cities limited the value of fuel purchases to 1,000 rupees ($9.50) per car and 100 rupees per motorbike.

“It is better to fill the tank,” said Waseem Sheikh, one of hundreds queuing at a Shell petrol station in Islamabad, the capital. “I don’t want to face a hard time just because I don’t have fuel in my car.”

As fears of a fuel shortage peaked, protesters in the southern port city of Karachi attacked tankers earlier on Wednesday, at least one of them appearing to involve gunfire.

“The latest attack took place this morning, in which the tanker driver suffered gunshot injuries,” said Naseem Aftab, a spokesman for Pakistan State Oil (PSO), adding that three of the company’s tankers had been targeted.

APOTA and APCCA announced countrywide strike on Monday when Ogra initiated checking the tankers being used by the oil marketing companies to reduce the frequent accidents being caused by substandard tankers.

According to Ogra around 40 percent of oil tankers are substandard and do not fulfil the safety criteria.

But oil tankers owners went on strike presenting maltreatment by Motorway and NHA police as an excuse and alleging them of highhandedness.

Agreement has been reached for the resolution of the all issues faced by the oil tankers, Shahwani said. It was agreed that both sides will negotiate to increase the freight rate of oil tankers and to resolve all other issues within 15 days, he added.

When asked who was responsible for the miseries of the people caused by the fuel shortage, the APOTA chairman blamed the government for it.

He said they had earlier announced a strike for July 3 but postponed it until July 24 to give government time. But the government didn’t take any steps to resolve the issues faced by the oil tankers, he added.

The Apota has presented a list of 10 demands to the government which includes increase in freight rate, expelling the National Logistic Cell (NLC) from the oil transportation business, stoppage of oil transportation to Peshawar via train, allowing oil tankers to pass through the Kohat tunnel, decrease of explosive permit rate, and continuation of old regulatory system.

When asked that how much increase in freight rate was agreed by the government, Apota central leader Salman Tareen said that “none of our demands was accepted by the government but we have been assured that the issues being faced by the oil tankers association will be resolved.”

About new safety regulations, he said that “we are ready to follow the OGRA’s quality standards but it cannot be done overnight. Our industry can built 350 to 400 tankers a month and if we want to replace all the substandard tankers it will require almost a couple of years.”

He claimed that the government has agreed to defer the timeline for the implementation of safety measures by two years.

MNA Jamshid Dasti who was also present in meeting as an oil tanker representative told the media that NHA and OMC are making billions but no one is working for the betterment of the road safety. “This is my clan,” he said while pointing towards the oil tankers representatives and said that they were hardly making their livelihood by driving tankers.

Talking to media Ogra Spokesperson Imran Ghaznavi said that it was agreed that Ogra will hold discussion with the oil industry in the coming week to review the technical standards of 2009 policy to remove the difficulties being faced by the industry and implement the above regulations.

Keeping in view the national interest and to ensure uninterrupted supply of petroleum products to the general public, Ogra will determine the time period during which the industry shall bring their fleet to the level of the set standards.

However, he rejected the two years deferment claims of Apota and said that “we didn’t agree to any such timeframe”. The relaxation will be for a year instead, he added.

“In case of any accident causing damage to the life/property of the general public during the interim period, the OMCs (as per their licence conditions), shall be responsible for any obligation whatsoever linked with any such mishap,” he said.

Ogra will also resolve the issues faced by the cartage contractors regarding freight/IFEM, keeping in view the demand of the cartage contractors, comments/recommendations of OCAC and computational framework for cartage rate 2009, issued by the MP&NR.