COLOMBO: Crisis-hit Sri Lanka is exploring options to purchase oil from Russia, a senior minister said on Sunday, as the island nation desperately looks to replenish its dwindling fuel stocks amid an unprecedented economic crisis due to a crippling shortage of foreign exchange reserves.
On Sunday, petrol price was hiked by LKR 50 and diesel by LKR 60 respectively, the third price revision in just over two months.
The move was necessitated after state-owned refinery Ceylon Petroleum Corporation informed the Sri Lankan government on Saturday that there would be a delay in the arrival of fuel shipments due to banking and logistical reasons.
Given the grim scenario, Sri Lanka's Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera insisted that the government was exploring options to buy oil from Russia.
"We have been exploring diplomatic channels. The last ship which was due to arrive was a Russian vessel. Our first letter of credit was rejected by international banks because the ship was owned by a Russian company," Wijesekera told reporters on Sunday.
He said that two ministers are scheduled to travel to Russia on Monday to discuss fuel and other diplomatic-related matters.
Last week, the Sri Lankan government had reached out to several companies suggested by the Russia's Embassy in Colombo for the procurement of crude.
Wijesekera said the exact date of the arrival of these fuel shipments that got delayed were not certain, even as he asserted that four groups from the ministry are currently working to secure fuel imports.
Meanwhile, the government has also decided to implement a token system in filling stations to the supply of fuel for those waiting in queues, Wijesekera said.
The programme will come into effect from Monday, for which the government has sought the assistance of personnel from the police and army.
Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 which has led to an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas and fuel across the country.
The nation of 22 million has amassed USD 51 billion in foreign debt, but has suspended repayment of nearly USD 7 billion due this year.
Sri Lankans continue to languish in long fuel and cooking gas queues as the government is unable to find dollars to fund imports. So far, there have been an estimated twelve deaths in fuel queues due to exhaustion, physical ailments or accidents.
Indian credit lines for fuel and essentials have provided lifelines until the ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund could lead to a possible bailout. There have been street protests in Sri Lanka against the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime since early April due to its mishandling of the economic crisis.