UK Deploying Army Drivers to Deliver Fuel Despite Reports That Shortages Are Easing

The U.K. government deployed army drivers with fuel tankers Wednesday to help deliver gasoline to retailers that have run dry amid nationwide shortages, according to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. The deployment comes just as the fuel industry said in a statement that the shortages were easing.

Britain's fuel-supply dilemma was caused by a shortage in truck drivers who can transport gas to pumps around the nation, the Associated Press reported. The military drivers will begin moving the government's reserve tanker fleet to make deliveries in the coming days, Kwarteng said.

"It takes, sometimes, a few days to get troops on the ground. We have decided to do that. I think in the next couple of days you will see some soldiers driving tankers," Kwarteng told reporters.

Kwarteng said that civilian drivers would also take on some of the government tankers starting Wednesday to contribute "additional logistical capacity to the fuel industry."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.K. Fuel Shortages
The U.K. government has deployed troops to help distribute gasoline and help ease a fuel drought, triggered by a shortage of truck drivers, that has drained hundreds of pumps and sent frustrated drivers on long searches for gas. Above, a man fills his car at a petrol station in London on Wednesday. Frank Augstein/AP Photo

Many gas stations around Britain have shut down in the past five days after running out of fuel, a situation exacerbated by panic buying among some motorists. Long lines of vehicles formed at pumps that were still open, blocking roads and causing traffic chaos. Some drivers have had to endure hours-long waits to fill up.

Gordon Balmer, executive director of the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents the majority of U.K. gas stations, said just 27 percent of members reported being out of fuel Wednesday.

A joint statement issued by Shell U.K., BP and other fuel companies said they were "confident that the situation will stabilize further in the coming days."

The companies welcomed the deployment of the reserve tankers and said they were working closely with the government to maintain regular deliveries to gas stations. They reiterated that the truck driver shortage is the problem and there has "always been plenty of fuel at our refineries and terminals."

Despite the optimistic outlook, a taxi drivers' union said about a quarter of its members were not able to work Tuesday and there appeared to be few immediate signs of the situation improving.

"It has not got any better. The queues at the station—if you can find a station with any to queue up—are not getting any better," said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association.

The supply problems have stemmed from a shortage of as many as 100,000 truck drivers, due to a combination of factors including pandemic-related disruption to driver training, an aging workforce and an exodus of foreign workers following Britain's departure from the European Union last year.

As well as getting help from the army, Britain's Conservative government is trying to entice former British drivers back into the industry, as well as accelerate the training of new drivers.

It's also offering visas to 5,000 foreign drivers to come to the U.K for three months, but critics and others like Romanian truck driver Bron Zoltan said that timeline is too short.

"I heard about the three-month visas," he said. "If you give me a contract for three months, then what? What will happen to me?"

U.K. Deploys Tanker Fleet
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to reassure the British public Tuesday that a fuel-supply crisis was “stabilizing.” Above, a closed petrol station in London on Wednesday. Frank Augstein/AP Photo