June 23, 2005 Domino gas station customers on St. Thomas and St. John should be able to fill up by next week, Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik said Thursday. The gas stations have been out of gas for much of this week.
The problem appears to be related to a U.S. Coast Guard inspection problem centered on the tanker barge that brings the fuel to the Virgin Islands. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. j.g. Eric Willis said Thursday from San Juan that while he can't conclusively connect the fuel tanker barge inspection problem to the Domino gas situation, the vessel is the only one that brings fuel to St. Thomas from Puerto Rico and the only one that experienced a delay.
He said the tanker barge Wednesday received an inspection extension good until June 30 and could ship fuel to St. Thomas. "The vessel is certified to do business," he said.
The Source is not identifying the vessel or the company because of the lack of a conclusive link between it and the Domino gas problem.
Sam Benjamin, Domino general manager on St. Thomas, isn't talking about why the gas stations are out of fuel. "I don't give information," he said Thursday, adding that Domino stations will get gas "sometime soon."
Rutnik said there are six Domino stations on St. Thomas. However, the island has numerous other gas stations to serve those motorists. On St. John, two of the island's three gas stations sell Domino gas. This means that the Texaco station often has lines out into the road.
E&C gas station on St. John, which sells Domino gas, has been out of fuel since Tuesday. "Hopefully, we'll get fuel by Saturday," manager Myrtle Barry said Thursday.
She said she understood the problem was related to the Coast Guard inspection of the fuel barge. The Domino station in Coral Bay was closed Thursday morning.
Barry said she was not pleased at this turn of events because the gas station makes its money by providing goods and services to customers.
Wilbur Smith, who drives a safari bus for Transportation Services, said that he had to get in the line at the Texaco station to wait for gas.
Several St. John residents who called the Source with questions about the gas problem wondered what they would do when their vehicles neared empty.
"I'm staying home," Kathy Demar said. She and others worried what would happen to rental car customers who ran out of fuel.
"Rental car managers better have their jerry cans ready," Rutnik said.
Willis said the inspection problem began because the company that owns the tanker barge failed to get the vessel inspected in a timely manner. He said the Coast Guard does two types of vessel inspections on fuel barges external and an internal one on the tank.
He said the vessel was supposed to be hauled out by May 30 for the external inspection, but the company notified the Coast Guard on June 9 that it was overdue and requested an extension.
Willis said the Coast Guard then determined that the vessel was long overdue for the internal inspection. He said the Coast Guard immediately sent an inspector to do the internal inspection and indicated it would allow a one-month extension from its original May 30 due date for the external inspection.
When the Coast Guard inspector arrived in Ponce, P.R., where the vessel was hauled out, the power was out and the vessel could not be inspected because there was no ventilation, Willis said. The inspector returned the next day, and the vessel subsequently passed inspection on Wednesday.
"We worked closely with the company. They were already overdue when we were notified," Willis said.
Rutnik said this is the second time in the past week that St. Thomas and St. John faced gas problems. On June 15, he said, Texaco stations ran out of gas because the tanker was unable to load the vessel at the HOVENSA refinery on St. Croix when it missed its scheduled time slot.
He said that rumors about the situation circulated like wildfire, which resulted in long lines at gas stations.
"It was gridlock," he said, adding that the problem was so bad, emergency vehicles couldn't get through.
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