Thousands of airline passengers were stranded across Papua New Guinea as commercial airlines grounded planes after the country’s sole supplier of finished petroleum products stopped providing jet fuel.

Puma Energy, the country’s only fuel supplier, said the shortage in supply was due to a lack of foreign currency from the Central Bank of Papua New Guinea, used to buy fuel on the international markets.

There was chaos at the country’s main domestic airport in Port Moresby, after all major airlines cancelled their scheduled domestic flights earlier on Thursday.

Hundreds of passengers were turned away from Jacksons International Airport in the capital city, prompting passengers to demand an intervention from prime minister James Marape.

“Our livelihood is being affected, just after new year,” said Simdei Kamgu, who was supposed to be travelling to Kiunga, Western Province.

The prime minister, James Marape, said the situation had become a national security issue and asked the Bank of PNG and Puma Energy to solve the problem, saying the country was being held to ransom.

Papua New Guinea’s largest airline, Air Niugini, released a statement on Wednesday, saying that all flights around the country would be cancelled because Puma Energy had suspended the supply of Jet A1 fuel to all airline companies.

“We have done everything possible to ensure that this situation did not occur and that we could continue to support the people of Papua New Guinea especially as they return from their Christmas holiday,” said Air Niugini. “The airline can assure all our customers that we are completely up to date with our payments to Puma Energy.”

Air Niugini warned that international flights could also be cancelled if the country’s central bank failed to supply enough US dollars for the fuel supplier, Puma Energy, to buy jet fuel.

Papua New Guinea’s rugged terrain and lack of interconnecting roads makes air travel the most efficient and reliable means of travel. The two largest cities, Port Moresby and Lae, are only connected by plane.

The country has only two major highways linking its interior highlands to the coast and three other highways linking smaller towns. There are no railroads and though there are shipping lines to transport cargo, there are no options for people to travel far on sea. Even cargo is flown by air by companies like Air Niugini.

A dispute between the Bank of Papua New Guinea and Puma Energy has affected the ability of the energy company to buy fuel.

The Bank of PNG is yet to comment on the foreign exchange situation.

“It sends a worse message out over unreliability of services, both fuel and air services, potentially jeopardising important industries and service,” said Paul Barker from the country’s Institute of National Affairs.

PNG businesses have been struggling for over a decade to get the US dollars needed to pay their suppliers.

Extracted in full from:Airlines grounded across Papua New Guinea due to fuel shortage | Papua New Guinea | The Guardian