May 31 , 2020

Libya Oil Ethiopia Ltd, one of the largest oil companies in the country, has witnessed the theft of lubricants worth 800,000 Br from containers for the third time in less than a year.

The company, which operates 167 stations in the country, has been the victim of tampering on several shipments of lubricants that were unloaded from Djibouti. After the first robbery, Libya Oil reported it to the Ethiopian Oil Companies Association at the end of October of last year.

This was not the only example of this kind of heist. Total Ethiopia and National Oil Company (NOC) also reported that lubricants were missing from containers at the end of October, the same period as Oil Libya.

After receiving the complaints, the Association wrote a letter to the Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise, according to Tadesse Girma, secretary-general of the Association, which was formed in August 2017 and has seven members. NOC, Libya Oil, Total Ethiopia, Yetebaberut Beherawi Petroleum (YBP), TAF Oil Plc, Kobil Ethiopia Ltd, and Gomeju Oil are the Enterprise's members.

“We asked the Enterprise to compensate the companies for the amount of damage incurred and also demanded that the shipments be transported by railway instead of by road,” he said.

While the follow-up to the first incident was ongoing, the second theft was inflicted on Oil Libya, and the Association again sent a reminder letter to the Enterprise. Libya Oil also appealed to the state shipping giant independently.

“In the first and second theft, it was hard to figure out where the theft occurred - whether it was the route from Djibouti to Modjo Dry Port or from the port to our cars," said an official from Oil Libya. “By the third time, we figured out where it might have occurred."

Frustrated by the series of robberies, the company requested the inspection of the container at Modjo Dry Port in the presence of officials from the Customs Commission, the Enterprise and Modjo Dry Port.

“We witnessed missing lubricants,” said the official from Oil Libya. “No one was willing to record what we witnessed on the scene.”

"There was no satisfactory answer to our letters," said Tadesse, who added that the Association went on to send a letter to the CEO of the Enterprise.

"In accordance with our agreement, as a transporter, we have no idea as to the content or number of items in the container," said Roba Megerssa, CEO of the Enterprise, which carries 17,000 containers a month. "Our responsibility lies in keeping the seal of the container intact to the delivery point. Unless the seal is damaged, we have no legal responsibility since we don't even know what the contents are."

"We receive so many complaints," said Roba. "However, an investigation by the police comes first before any allegations."

Since the situation is getting worse as time passes, the Association is proposing using the railway for future shipments, according to Tadesse.

Modjo Dry Port, which is located approximately 70Km from the capital, has a railway system with a capacity to move 3,500tn of cargo on a single trip. The largest port in the country, Modjo Dry Port manages over 70pc of the country's imports and has the capacity to hold 14,500 containers at a time. The train can make two trips a day to Djibouti, while truck transport takes more than four days for a two-way trip.

"Before any other option, the complaints need to be checked into with an investigation," said Roba.

It really all comes down to the shipping terms of the parties, according to Tesfaye Belay, a lecturer at Addis Abeba University specialising in procurement, logistics and supply chain management.

"Whenever shipping companies receive sealed containers and deliver them sealed, they are unlikely to be liable for any damages," he said. "The transporters don't have the chance to know what the containers carry."

Thus, Tesfaye recommends that the case needs further investigation to detect what exactly happened.

PUBLISHED ON May 31,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1049]

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