The government will set up a panel headed by the deputy director of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department to look into the recent spate of taxi and minibus breakdowns, which drivers blame on dirty Sinopec LPG. The group will comprise representatives from the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, vehicle importers, gas suppliers, the vehicle repair and maintenance industry, and taxi and minibus owners and drivers. Sinopec faces compensation claims from thousands of taxi and minibus drivers for repairs and loss of business caused by the breakdowns. The Motor Transport Workers General Union advised drivers yesterday not to refuel at Sinopec stations and to keep receipts for repairs required by bad fuel. 'We will act together to seek compensation from Sinopec, which gives us poor fuel and wrecks our vehicles,' the director of the union's branch for taxi drivers, To Sun-tong, said. The union, which has 8,000 cabbie members, plans to push for reimbursement of repair costs and, if possible, loss of income for the period taxis were off the road. To estimated 5,000 to 6,000 of the city's 18,000 taxis had experienced problems with stalling engines after filling up with liquified petroleum gas from Sinopec in the past few weeks. Impurities were found in the filters of affected vehicles, and it cost HK$900 to HK$1,300 to have the filter cleaned each time, To said. Drivers also lost earnings - about HK$90 an hour - as they had to wait for at least an hour to have the garage service. Leung Shiu-cheong, chairman of the Taxi Operators Association, which represents 1,500 taxi owners, said members had complained to him. An owner said he had to wait three days to get the filter cleaned, causing a loss of HK$2,700 because he could not rent out the taxi. Hundreds of cabs running on Sinopec LPG broke down in the middle of the road over the New Year. Some drivers said they were almost hit from behind when their engines suddenly died. Most cabbies use Sinopec because its LPG is the cheapest of the four fuel suppliers, both taxi associations said. According to the January ceiling prices for the 12 dedicated LPG filling stations - seven operated by Sinopec and five by Eco - a litre of Sinopec LPG is HK$3.91 to HK$4.01, and Eco's is HK$4.06 to HK$4.31. Many of the city's minibuses have also broken down after refuelling at Sinopec stations. The chairman of the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Public and Maxicab Light Bus Merchants' United Association, Leung Hung, estimated about 200 LPG minibuses had had the same problem since Friday. Of the city's 4,000 public minibuses, half use LPG. 'Many of the garages are full, and most of the vehicles broke down with the same problem. It is the first time we have faced such a situation,' Leung said. A member of the Hong Kong Public Light Bus Owner and Driver Association, Suen Shing-yat, who owns 30 minibuses, said 20 of his vehicles had broken down. 'One of my minibuses even broke down in the middle of the road 12 times within an hour. The business is severely affected,' he said, adding he believed the problem was caused by Sinopec LPG. 'We switched to other refuelling stations and the problem has vanished.' Electrical and Mechanical Services Department senior engineer Jonathan Shum Chung-yiu said the department would meet taxi drivers and Sinopec today. Department staff would also inspect all fuel storage sites and petrol stations shortly. Results of laboratory tests on fuel samples taken from Sinopec stations would be available in two to three weeks, Shum said. The department said it was drafting comprehensive maintenance guidelines for LPG fuel systems. It would also set up regular testing on 20 sample vehicles to monitor the effects LPG available on markets. Law Society president Wong Kwai-huen said affected taxi and minibus drivers had a good chance of winning compensation from Sinopec if its LPG proved substandard. 'Under the Sales of Goods Ordinance, a seller should provide goods corresponding to their description and should not offer substandard products,' Wong said. 'Drivers need to prove the quality of LPG they got from Sinopec was poor and it caused engine failure.' Institution of Engineers vice-president Dr Chan Fuk-cheung believed the problem was caused by contamination of the LPG. 'LPG itself is very pure and its production is under stringent monitoring, so the problem could be caused during transport,' he said.