Truck drivers are stranded at the UAE-Saudi border at Al Ghuwaifat. Around 4,000 vehicles are waiting to clear the Saudi Arabia customs post. Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Al Ghuwaifat: Truck drivers' tempers were just getting shorter early Tuesday afternoon as the queue of trucks waiting at the UAE border to cross into Saudi was just getting longer. 

By 2pm it was estimated to measure 22km as it stretched back 4km beyond the Al Sila highway. 

Truck drivers Gulf News had spoken to Monday morning had not moved one inch by 1pm.

"However international courier trucks that have documents with pre-customs clearance are moving through unimpeded, Gulf News has learned.

Border crossing officials are also giving preferential treatment to trucks that are carrying perishable goods in a freezer unit, which was causing some friction among the truck drivers with non-perishable loads.

Line keeps getting longer

Al Ghuwaifat:  A line of trucks waiting to cross the UAE-Saudi border on Tuesday has stretched to 20km past Al Sila highway toward Abu Dhabi. The line keeps getting longer, with at least three trucks joining the queue per minute.

An estimated 5,000 trucks are stuck at the border while waiting to complete Saudi customs procedures. There has been no movement for truck drivers who have waited at Al Ghuwaifat since Monday. It now takes at least six days to cross the border after passing through customs.

Anticipating processing delays, drivers have stocked up on provisions while waiting to cross border. Truck drivers told Gulf News that they also have to endure a one-hour wait to use the washroom. There are only six in the area.

Six-day wait

Just after 2pm on Monday afternoon, Govindra Gil Singh brought his red and white Mercedes truck and a load of rebar steel to a halt on a dusty stretch of highway here.

He was 300 metres or so from kilometre post 15, just on the outskirts of Al Sila. Before him was a trailer loaded with bags of cement bound for Dammam, another 4,000 trucks or so, and a six-day wait to clear Saudi Arabia customs.

"Ayeeeee," he said as he dismounted from the cab. "The long wait begins," he said. For the past six weeks, this queue of trucks waiting to clear the Saudi Arabia customs post five kilometres beyond the UAE's Al Ghuwaifat has stretched for up to 30 kilometres across the barren and blowing sands.

Sound of cooking pots

At least a light drizzle was falling on the trucks, silent for the most part save for the occasional cooking pots being stirred, sheesha pipes brewing or routine maintenance being carried out on the parked rigs.

Abdul Rashid, a truck driver originally from Bangladesh, is Qatar-bound from Dubai with a load of machine lubricants. He left Dubai on Saturday night. By yesterday afternoon, his rig was parked in a compound behind Al Ghuwaifat mosque.

He had travelled 15 kilometres since early Sunday morning. And he'll be another compound closer to the Saudi customs area today, hand his papers in to the Saudi officials tomorrow, get them back on Thursday and Friday, Inshallah, be clear on his way to the Qatari border. With a bit more luck, he might deliver the load on Saturday. He's being paid Dh300 for the round trip which normally takes three days.

'We can do nothing'

"We can do nothing but sit and wait," he said. "The problem isn't on the UAE side. It's Saudi customs where the delay is. It takes so long to get there — maybe five days. They take another day to have the papers handed back — that's if there's no problem. If there's a problem, maybe three or so more days."

Salim, a Syrian driver hauling aluminium blocks to Qatar, said the truckers are often penalised if one of the 1,000 or so rigs that normally cross into Saudi daily is caught carrying contraband material such as alcohol or meats.

"They take so long to do the paperwork and then to clear the trucks," he said. "They only have one speed, and that is reverse."

The current backlog of trucks has been slowing cross-border traffic between the UAE and the rest of its neighbours along the Arabian Gulf for the past six weeks.

"Every year, it is the same problem," Salim said. "I have been driving from Dubai since 2000 and they stop the trucks in 2009 and again in 2010. At least now, it's not hot."

Drivers have anticipated being caught up in the queue and have packed extra provisions and water.

No washrooms

"But there are no washrooms for us to use," another driver complained.

"We have no showers and we are kept waiting too long. We are losing money. Before, we could maybe do seven trips in a month from Dubai, now we are lucky if we do four in a month. What is taking us six or seven days used to take us three. How can we live like this when we are getting half of our salary?"

Gopal, an Indian trucker, said he has been driving in the Gulf for the past 30 years and  was getting fed up with the waits and delays.

"I think I will retire and go back to my village," he said. "I can sit in a chair and do nothing. Or I can sit here in my truck and do nothing. At least there, I will have my wife, sons and family around me."