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Port of Beirut explosion forces diversion of vessels

Shipping lines sending cargo to alternative Lebanese port

A satellite image shows the devastation at the Port of Beirut from Tuesday’s explosion. (Image: European Space Imaging)

Time seems to have stopped at the Port of Beirut. The Beirut Container Terminal Consortium (BCTC) vessel schedule has not been updated since Tuesday’s massive explosion obliterated Lebanon’s principal port.

The BCTC website was down in the hours following the blast, believed to have been caused by ammonium nitrate stored in one of 12 warehouses at the Port of Beirut, at approximately 6 p.m. Tuesday. Although the site was back up Thursday, the vessel schedule shows the arrival of the CMA CGM Lyra this past Tuesday as pending. 

The Lyra in fact was in port and only about 1,640 yards from the explosion site, but the container ship, with a capacity of 11,400 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), was not damaged, according to the CMA CGM Group.

CMA CGM’s office in Beirut was severely damaged and one employee remained unaccounted for Thursday. Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. International (LBCI) identified the missing employee as Georges Roukoz.

CMA CGM has 261 employees based in Beirut and said two were seriously hurt in the blast and many others suffered minor injuries.

At least 137 people are now confirmed dead, 5,000 have been injured and dozens still are missing. 

The BCTC schedule shows the Maersk Nairobi slated to arrive on Wednesday. Maersk, like all shipping lines calling the Port of Beirut, has been scrambling to reroute vessels. Many, like the Nairobi, were diverted to Lebanon’s Port of Tripoli.

LBCI reported Thursday that Port of Tripoli officials were assuring the Lebanese people that the nation would not suffer a wheat shortage as a result of the suspension of operations in Beirut. There had been at least one grain silo at the Port of Beirut. 

“A ship loaded with wheat for Al-Bahsas milling company will arrive from Ukraine loaded with 5,500 tons. Three other ships will also arrive within the coming few days. Workers will empty the ships at full speed without any hindrances and the port will provide the required logistical services and subsequently transport wheat to all the Lebanese regions,” the statement read.

Seven ships were at the Port of Beirut at the time of the blast. Two of them, the Mero Star and Raouf-H, were carrying grain from Ukraine.

According to LBCI, officials also said the Port of Tripoli “was completely void of any chemicals, firecrackers or dangerous materials.”

Lebanese authorities believe more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the Port of Beirut caused Tuesday’s devastating explosion. Lebanon Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed to find “the person responsible for what happened and hold him accountable and impose the most severe penalties.”

According to various media outlets, the ammonium nitrate, used in agricultural fertilizer, arrived at the port in 2013 aboard the Russian-owned MV Rhosus. Because of alleged financial difficulties, the ship never left Beirut. Lebanese officials charge the dangerous chemical had been improperly stored ever since.

Maersk said Thursday that none of its vessels were at the Port of Beirut at the time of the explosion. “However, Maersk containers were present in the port and we are doing our utmost to assess the scale of potential damage and the impact to any equipment and cargo.

“We aim to individually contact all our customers whose cargo could have been directly impacted being at the port at the time of explosion and also provide further communication on inbound vessels destined for Beirut and this will be happening over the coming days,” Maersk said in a customer advisory.

Maesrk’s office in Beirut also was seriously damaged, and three employees in the building at the time of the blast were treated at a hospital for injuries, the company said. 

“We are determined to find the best possible alternative solution for our operations while the port in Beirut remains closed, which we expect to last for the next few weeks. We are currently working on a solution with the port in Tripoli to enable the calls of our vessels there and will be communicating the details as soon as they are known,” Maersk said.

In addition to Maersk, other shipping lines that already have a presence at the Port of Tripoli include CMA CGM, United Arab Shipping Co. (USAC), Tarros and Arkas. 

USAC merged with Hapag-Lloyd in 2016. Italy-headquartered Tarros is an intra-Mediterraean shipping line, and the Turkish Arkas has 20 vessels that travel among ports along the Mediterranean and Black seas. 

The Port of Tripoli has eight berths and had been averaging 37 ship calls per month, according to its website. 

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Click for more FreightWaves/American Shipper articles by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.