Fuel siphoners earn a living by running after dregs
By A'an Suryana
JAKARTA (JP): Motorists in and around the capital are probably familiar with the sight of teenage boys and young men chasing after passing fuel trucks, opening the valves on the backs of the vehicles, collecting drops of fuel in small buckets and scattering.
These people are usually found near toll gates, at traffic lights and along streets known for their traffic congestion. They arm themselves with buckets or plastic bags. These fuel siphoners, locally known as tukang tiris minyak, usually work in groups, selling the fuel to brokers who wait nearby with large buckets and jerry cans.
According to the drivers of the truck and officials from state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina, the fuel siphoners are not criminals because they "only" take the dregs of fuel left inside the tanks of the trucks.
The siphoners only enemy is the police, though numerous motorists have complained about the recklessness of these liquid scavengers, who run through traffic at great risk to themselves.
One of the most popular sites for fuel siphoners in the capital is the city's sole Pertamina fuel distribution center in Plumpang, on the busy street of Jl. Yos Sudarso in North Jakarta.
Scores of them are seen from Monday to Saturday hanging around the site looking to collect those few drops of fuel left inside the empty tanks of the trucks.
Like those in the business across the capital, the Plumpang siphoners, mostly barefoot and carrying pails or plastic bags, run after the passing trucks, open the valves on the tanks and, with the satisfaction showing on their faces, collect the fuel as the run along behind the trucks.
The whole process usually only takes a few seconds. However, if the siphoners are lucky, it can take at least two minutes to collect the remaining fuel in the tanks.
The siphoners place their filled buckets and bags into zinc buckets they have placed strategically near their place of "business".
Interviewed separately by The Jakarta Post on Saturday, the Plumpang fuel siphoners said they could understand the concerns of motorists, but were unwilling to give up their work and the money it afforded them.
The siphoners said they earned between Rp 15,000 (US$1.70) and Rp 30,000 per day, an amount of money they felt justified the risks they took.
"I'm able to collect 20 to 30 liters a day for which I can earn between Rp 15,000 and Rp 30,000. After cutting the cost of my meal, I can save Rp 10,000 to Rp 15,000 a day," said Waryanto, 26, a father of two.
Other fuel collectors gave similar figures.
But according to Lambok Sianipar, 22, a number of siphoners have been hit by fuel trucks while collecting the gasoline.
"Three years ago, my left foot was crushed while I was chasing a moving truck. I was forced to go to a masseur and recovered several days later," said Lambok, who has been in the business for seven years.
He also said he and his friends were often arrested and charged with disrupting traffic. "We're beaten up but released later. It's a risky job, indeed. But if we don't do it, we can't eat," said Lambok, who lives in a boarding house on nearby Jl. Jati.
Waryanto, Lambok and dozens of other Plumpang siphoners work from 6 a.m to 5 p.m. six days a week. "We're off on Sundays since there are no fuel trucks operating on that day. We also don't work when it rains," said Waryanto.
Most of the fuel collectors were full of praise for the understanding and sympathy the truck drivers showed them.
"If they drive slower, we are able to collect the fuel," Waryanto explained.
However, not all of the drivers are sympathetic, with several expressing animosity toward the siphoners. "We'll be blamed for any accidents they suffer," said Rizal, a driver for fuel transportation company PT Karya Putra Mulya Usaha.
He said he was forced to drive carefully through those areas where the siphoners worked, slowing down to avoid the darting figures of the siphoners.
"I always ask my assistant driver to watch and see whether there are fuel collectors near my truck. I always reduce my speed if someone is collecting gasoline from us," Rizal said.
But he said the truck drivers were helpless or unwilling to put a stop to the risky business of the siphoners. "We understand they are struggling for life. Why we should stop them?"
According to the siphoners, they sell the fuel they collect to brokers at about Rp 400 per liter.
The brokers then resell the fuel for about Rp 500 per liter, or Rp 100 less than motorists pay at gas stations.
"From the fuel collectors, I get some 440 liters of fuel or about two big drums daily," said Subakir, a broker who works near a gate at the Plumpang distribution center.
The broker, who can earn up to Rp 40,000 a day, sells the fuel to motorists on Jl. Yos Sudarso. "I sell the fuel to motorists who are almost out of gas or reluctant to line up at gas stations," said the father of two.
Tuty Anggraeni, the head of Pertamina's oil supply and distribution division for Jakarta and West Java, said the siphoners did not cause the company any losses.
"They only take a few liters of fuel, and those are the dregs. We are only concerned by the traffic on the street here, since it can be disrupted by their presence," she told the Post.