US capital running out of gas, even as Colonial Pipeline recovers

The average national gasoline price has climbed to almost $3.04, the most expensive since October 2014, the American Automobile Association said. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 15 May 2021

US capital running out of gas, even as Colonial Pipeline recovers

  • Servers of key pipline's hacker Darkside forced down, says security firm

NEW YORK: The US capital was running out of gasoline on Friday even as the top US fuel pipeline ramped up deliveries following a cyberattack and Washington officials assured motorists that supplies would return to normal soon.

Servers for Darkside were taken down by unknown actors Friday, a US cyber security firm said.

Recorded Future, the security firm, said in a post that the allegedly Russia-based Darkside operator "Darksupp" had admitted in a web post that it lost access to certain servers used for its web blog and for payments.

Accessed via TOR on the dark web, the Darkside onionsite address showed a notice saying it could not be found.

The six-day Colonial Pipeline shutdown was the most disruptive cyberattack on record, which underscored the vulnerability of vital US infrastructure to cybercriminals.

Widespread panic buying continued two days after the nation’s largest fuel pipeline network restarted, leaving filling stations across the US Southeast out of gas even in areas far from the pipeline.

US pump prices are at their highest in years, just two weeks before the peak summer driving season kicks off and as traffic continues to recover from mobility restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The average national gasoline price has climbed to almost $3.04, the most expensive since October 2014, the American Automobile Association said.

On Friday gas station outages in Washington, DC climbed to 87 percent, from 79 percent the day before, tracking firm GasBuddy said.

“Most of these states/areas with outages have continued to see panicked buying, which is likely a contributing factor to the slowish recovery thus far,” said GasBuddy’s Patrick De Haan. “It will take a few weeks.”

Colonial Pipeline announced late Thursday it had restarted its entire pipeline system linking refineries on the Gulf Coast to markets along the eastern seaboard.

President Joe Biden also reassured US motorists that fuel supplies should start returning to normal by this weekend.

Some states experienced modest improvements in gas outages but still saw a high amount. About 70 percent of gas stations in North Carolina were without fuel, while around 50 percent of stations in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia had outages.

The hacking group believed to be responsible for the attack, DarkSide, said it had hacked four other companies including a Toshiba subsidiary in Germany.

Colonial Pipeline, which is owned by pension funds, private equity and energy firms, has not determined how the initial breach occurred, a spokeswoman said on Thursday. The company has focused on cleaning its networks, restoring data and reopening the pipeline.

Colonial has not disclosed how much money the hackers were seeking or whether it paid. However, Bloomberg News reported that it paid nearly $5 million to hackers.

To stem fuel shortages, four states and federal regulators relaxed fuel driver restrictions to speed deliveries of fresh supplies. Washington also issued a waiver to US refiner Valero Energy Corp. allowing it to transport gasoline and diesel from the US Gulf Coast to East Coast ports on foreign-flagged vessels. The US normally limits deliveries between domestic ports to US-built and crewed vessels.

Gulf Coast refiners that send their fuel to market through the Colonial Pipeline have had to cut production because they have not been able to move their gasoline, diesel and jet fuel through the pipeline. A smaller, alternative pipeline filled to capacity quickly after Colonial announced its network was shut last Friday.


Saudi courier, delivery industry valued at $970 million

Updated 20 June 2021

Saudi courier, delivery industry valued at $970 million

  • A report says the sector is expected to grow by 6.5 percent annually until 2026 in KSA

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s courier and parcel delivery market, now estimated to be worth $970 million, was expected to grow by an average 6.5 percent per year until 2026, according to new figures.

A report issued by Dublin-based ResearchAndMarkets.com has revealed that the Kingdom was a key Middle Eastern player in the booming sector.

“E-commerce is one of the major factors driving the market growth. With higher connectivity rates, a young working population, and advanced infrastructure, the country is one of the major markets in online retailing in the Middle East,” the study said.

A growing trend highlighted in the report was the popularity of pickup, drop-off (PUDO) points. At present, only about 15 to 20 percent of orders are collected at a physical location operated by courier companies or their delivery partners.

The increased investment by large operators in the e-commerce sector was likely to result in the development of more warehouse facilities and the growth of PUDO points, the research showed.

Global giant Amazon in March announced plans to add 11 buildings to its network in Saudi Arabia, boost its storage capacity in the Kingdom by 89 percent, and increase its geographical delivery network by 58 percent.

According to data produced by research firm Statista, e-commerce revenue in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $7.051 billion this year and grow at an annual rate of 5.38 percent to reach $8.697 billion by 2025.

At the same time, Dubai’s Majid Al-Futtaim recently told Arab News that the surge in demand for e-commerce had seen it expand its fulfillment and delivery network. A new 9,000-square-meter center in Riyadh operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, handling up to 5,000 orders each day. More than 500 workers process the orders, which are delivered by a fleet of 150 refrigerated trucks, and the company plans to open more centers next year.

The courier and delivery report added: “Given the continuous growth in e-commerce and the fact that building one’s own network is very expensive, more partnerships are expected to happen in the market on the back of pressure on cost reduction.”

Technology will play a big part in changing the industry over the next few years, as a big challenge in Saudi Arabia was the country’s lack of postal codes. The report highlighted that delivery companies in the Kingdom regularly requested landmarks rather than addresses, with drivers often asking for locations to be identified via WhatsApp.

The rate of returns on e-commerce goods in Saudi Arabia was relatively low due to most transactions using cash on demand. However, the report predicted that as digital payments continued to rise, returns would become more common.


Laundry firm aims for 400% expansion across Saudi Arabia

Updated 20 June 2021

Laundry firm aims for 400% expansion across Saudi Arabia

  • It is the only laundry shop that has a franchise agency
  • Due to the pandemic, it uses UV machines that disinfect clothes, carpets, and such

JEDDAH: When Abdulkareem Rafeeq took over the family laundry business in Madinah six years ago he began implementing new modern technology.

And despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic denting his ambitions in the short term, he put in place major expansion plans and has set a goal to have 50 branches within five years and 500 throughout the region by 2050, catering to the private and public sectors, and the hotel industry.

His father Mahmoud started the business in 1982, with the first branch of the Princes Express Laundries providing services to residents in the Madinah area.

His son joined the company in 2015 and launched the first branch of the Rafco Laundry chain, which incorporated modern working and processing methods and also offered free home delivery and disinfection of clothes.

Rafco Laundry now has 10 branches covering the majority of neighborhoods in Madinah. Still a family business, with his father the chairman of the board of directors, Rafeeq told Arab News he had big plans for the future.

The company’s goal was to expand to 30 branches in Riyadh and 20 branches in Jeddah and other parts of the Kingdom.

He said: “We plan to have 50 new branches in five years in the Kingdom that reach different regions. During the past two years, we opened 10 branches in the Madinah region. “It is the only laundry shop that has a franchise agency. Most franchises are cafes and restaurants, we decided to think outside the box and create a laundry franchise. “We made eight contracts so far with more than SR6 million ($1.6 million) and established these laundry shops. It takes us two months to open a laundry shop with its key and trained staff,” he added.

However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year affected the company’s plans. “There was a decrease in growth, but the company fixed it and we saw the strengths and weaknesses in the market,” Rafeeq said.

His idea to offer free disinfection of clothing was a key component in helping the business to recover, as during the pandemic many customers were concerned about the spread of the virus, especially in the early days when little was known about it.

“We brought in consultants, and the solution was to bring equipment from the US — ultraviolet (UV) machines that disinfect clothes, carpets, and such.

“We began to wash, iron, and disinfect. The disinfection (service) was for free, and we did a lot of marketing for it — through social media and the posters we handed out along with the clean clothes. People started coming to us, we created an opportunity out of a crisis,” he added.

Rafeeq said the innovations his team introduced had earned Rafco Laundry a good reputation as a modern establishment that had expanded its service offerings.

“We provided a shoe washing division. We also wash women’s handbags and students’ schoolbags. We have UV disinfection machines and clothes and sheet fresheners,” he added. The company had been planning a mobile app in 2019, but the digital boom brought about by the global health crisis accelerated its development and growth. The number of app users rose quickly during the pandemic, and it currently has around 1,500 regular customers. Rafeeq said: “The electronic app was not active when we first launched it, but during the lockdown and when everyone was at home, we relaunched the app and we made very good sales and depended on it essentially during the pandemic.”


Property firms lead Tadawul trading surge

Updated 20 June 2021

Property firms lead Tadawul trading surge

  • Leading the pack was Red Sea International Co., which was trading 1,452 percent above its average

RIYADH: A total of 88 listed firms on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) were trading above their three-month average when trading ended on Thursday, according to data compiled by financial information website Argaam.

Leading the pack was Red Sea International Co., which was trading 1,452 percent above its average.

The surge comes as the company reported last week that it had won a SR52.9 million ($14.1 million) contract to design and build a housing complex in AlUla, northwest Saudi Arabia.

In second place, but much further behind, was fellow property firm Saudi Real Estate Co. (Al Akaria), which on Thursday was trading at 893 percent above its three-month average. This was despite the fact that it reported a net loss after zakat and tax of SR4.6 million for the first quarter of 2021, up from a similar loss of SR2.9 million in the same period the previous year.

Retailer BinDawood Holding Co. reported a 50.8 percent decline in net profit after zakat and tax to SR62.1 million for the first quarter of this year, as revenue declined 20.4 percent. However, it was still third on the list, with a 583 percent surge in trading on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the company announced it plans to hold a general meeting on June 28 and shareholders will be asked to vote on contracts valued at SR135.96 million. With the two brands, BinDawood and Danube, BinDawood Holding Co. currently has a network of 74 stores in 15 cities throughout Saudi Arabia. In 2019, it announced plans to reach 100 stores by 2024, meaning an average of five to six stores per year.

Fourth on the list, trading 331 percent above its three-month average, was Saudi Re for Cooperative Reinsurance Co., which last month reported a net profit of SR16.2 million for the first three months of 2021, up from SR7.4 million the year before.

Rounding out the Top-5 and trading 309 percent higher was Saudi Cable Co., which a month ago reported a net loss after zakat and tax SR35.9 million for the first quarter 2021, 17 percent better than the SR43.2 million loss in the same quarter last year.

Among the other big Tadawul hitters, Saudi National Bank was trading 248 percent above its average, while energy giant Saudi Aramco was performing 149 percent higher.


China cracks down on cryptocurrency mining

Updated 20 June 2021

China cracks down on cryptocurrency mining

  • Authorities order closure of 26 suspected mining projects

SHANGHAI, HONG KONG: China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency “mining” has extended to the southwest province of Sichuan, where authorities ordered cryptocurrency mining projects closed in the major mining center.

Crypto mining is big business in China, accounting for more than half of global bitcoin production. But the State Council, China’s Cabinet, last month vowed to clamp down on bitcoin mining and trading as part of a series of measures to control financial risks.

Other popular mining regions, such as Inner Mongolia, have cited cryptocurrency mining’s use of electricity generated from highly polluting sources such as coal in orders targeting the industry.

Friday’s move in Sichuan — where miners mostly use hydropower to run the specially designed computer equipment used in verifying bitcoin transactions — suggests the crackdown is more broadly based.

The Sichuan Provincial Development and Reform Commission, and the Sichuan Energy Bureau issued a joint notice, dated Friday and seen by Reuters, demanding the closure of 26 suspected cryptocurrency mining projects by Sunday.

Sichuan is China’s second-biggest Bitcoin mining province, according to data compiled by the University of Cambridge. Some miners move their activities there in the rainy summer to take advantage of its rich hydropower resources.

The notice orders state electricity companies in Sichuan to conduct inspections and make corrections, reporting their results by Friday. They are to immediately stop supplying electricity to crypto mining projects they have detected. The authorities urged local governments in Sichuan to start combing for crypto mining projects and shut them down. It banned new projects.

Other regional mining centers including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Yunnan have ordered crackdowns on bitcoin mining.

Friday’s notice appears to indicate that Beijing’s displeasure with cryptocurrency mining extends beyond cases where it uses electricity generated by burning coal. “Renewable power does not help,” said Winston Ma, NYU Law School adjunct professor and author of the book “The Digital War.”

“The four largest mining regions — Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan — have implemented similar crackdown measures, even though mining in the latter two are mostly based on hydropower, whereas the first two are on coal,” Ma told Reuters.

Some miners have been considering moving elsewhere due to the crackdown.


Boeing 737 MAX model takes off on maiden flight

Updated 19 June 2021

Boeing 737 MAX model takes off on maiden flight

  • The plane completed a roughly 2-1/2-hour flight over Washington State, returning to Renton Municipal Airport near Seattle

WASHINGTON: Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX 10, the largest member of its best-selling single-aisle airplane family, took off on its maiden flight on Friday, in a further step toward recovering from the safety grounding of a smaller model.

The plane completed a roughly 2-1/2-hour flight over Washington State, returning to Renton Municipal Airport near Seattle at 12:38 p.m.

The first flight heralds months of testing and safety certification work before the jet is expected to enter service in 2023.

In an unusual departure from the PR buzz surrounding first flights, the event was kept low-key as Boeing tries to navigate overlapping crises caused by a 20-month grounding in the wake of two crashes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boeing must also complete safety certification of the plane under a tougher regulatory climate following two fatal crashes of a smaller 737 MAX version grounded the model for nearly two years — with a safety ban still in place in China.

Boeing has carried out design and training changes on the MAX family, which returned to US operations in December.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal said the company is producing about 16 737 MAX jets a month at its Renton factory.

Boeing is working on safety enhancements for the 737 MAX 10, including for its air data indication system and adding a third cockpit indication requested by European regulators of the “angle of attack,” a parameter needed to avoid stalling or losing lift. Deal’s comments were provided to the media via a pool reporter inside a Boeing aircraft delivery center.

“We’re going to take our time on this certification,” Deal said.

The flight showcased a revamped landing gear system illustrating an industry battle to squeeze as much mileage as possible out of the current generation of single-aisles.

It raises the landing gear’s height during takeoff and landing, a design needed to compensate for the MAX 10’s extra length and prevent the tail scraping the runway on takeoff.