As of next week, the German authorities will propose to the Lebanese authorities an aid plan for the port of Beirut and its surroundings, largely affected by the explosion of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate on August 4. This explosion left more than 200 dead and more than 6,000 injured.
The Berlin proposal would thus be supported by Paris and would also benefit from the support of the European Investment Bank (EIB), which could invest between 2 and 3 billion dollars in it.
However, it would be subject to certain conditions, such as the establishment of a new government, economic reforms and the fight against corruption which ravages public finances. These conditions are identical to those of the International Monetary Fund.
The German proposal also aims to restructure 100 hectares surrounding the port facilities of the port of Beirut on a model similar to that of SOLIDERE, at an estimated cost of between 5 and 15 billion dollars and the creation on the spot of 50,000 jobs.
On the French side, the CMA-CGM would be called upon without giving more details.
A strategic port in the eastern Mediterranean
The geostrategic interest of a commercial platform at the crossroads of roads to Asia and Africa on the one hand but also to the interior of the Arab World, quickly aroused much envy and many projects. The most ambitious was, however, carried out during the Ottoman Empire with the creation in 1887 of an autonomous port, “La Compagnie du Port, des Quais et des Entrepôts de Beyrouth”, financed mainly by French interests which will accompany this creation with the layout of the road then the railway to Damascus. Thus, in 1894, the First Basin of the Port of Beirut opened, prefiguring the Modern Port of the Lebanese capital.
At the end of the First World War, during the French Mandate, the Port of Beirut will become under French law in 1925, with a second basin which will be built in 1938 and then to be greatly extended thanks to the growth of the years. 60 with the construction of the 3rd and then the 4th basin. From then on, it became the Compagnie de Gestion et d’Exploitation du Port de Beyrouth, and the concession ended on December 31, 1990. It is therefore managed indirectly by the Lebanese State.
At the end of the civil war from 1975 to 1990 during which it had been looted in 1976 for loot, the amount of which is estimated between 1 and 2 billion dollars at the time, the Port of Beirut had to regain its place in the region from which he had been driven out by force of events. An unprecedented modernization effort was then put in place with the rehabilitation of its existing basins, with the exception of the First basin which had become too small for modern buildings and which a decision during the tenure of President Amine Gemayel led to be entrusted to the Lebanese Army which will make it a military base. Port activity will also be subject to the vagaries of regional conflicts, for example in 2006 when a blockade on the Israeli coast will be imposed, completely paralyzing the port.
Today, the main activity of the Port of Beirut consists of transshipment of goods. Equipped with 12 cranes of Chinese origin, 39 gantry cranes, over an area of 450,000 square meters reached saturation in 2009 and accommodating a maximum annual capacity of 1,500,000 TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent or TEU in English), the container terminal is subcontracted by a consortium managed by Mersey Dock and Harbord and the Maritime Association of British nationality.
It performs 23 movements per day and is planning an extension on the embankments of the 4th basin, which is currently being talked about a lot. Located on the Marseille-Singapore route, the port of Beirut has indeed become one of the main ports of call for container ships, the estimated traffic for the Mediterranean being expected to reach 130 million TEU in 2015, therefore increased traffic. where the Port of Beirut must remain competitive. It also serves as a transhipment hub for the two leading companies in the world, MSC and CMA-CGM.
Alongside this activity, the fact remains that the port of Beirut, thanks to its 4th basin, remains essential in the region and is an essential lung of Lebanese economic activity with its 12 warehouses and its unloading activity. . The large wheat silo of the Middle East, with a capacity of 120,000 tons, is thus located within it. Beirut is also a place of unloading of goods, including cars, trucks, animals for slaughter, and various cargoes of materials. raw materials, gas and oil.
It is these activities mainly present at the level of the 4th basin which are today threatened. The backfilling work already carried out has already limited the draft. The 4th basin is also essential for military operations in the region, being one of the only ones capable in the region of accommodating high-tonnage ships with strong draft (up to 14 meters). Lebanon is even under an obligation to make it available to the UN in the event of a request. Backfilling it therefore constitutes a violation of the Lebanese government’s commitments to the international community.
Since the end of the civil war, the Lebanese authorities have also developed a DutyFree activity over an area of 85,000 square meters in the port enclosure as well as a passenger transit project with a capacity of 400,000 people annually but due to current geopolitical circumstances, Beirut remains isolated from the main steamer routes. Besides its military activity, the first basin also serves as an exhibition space, in particular for Beirut Boat 2014.
The explosion of August 4, 2020
The port of Beirut will be ravaged by an explosion on August 4, 2020 at around 5 p.m. More than 200 people are believed to have died and more than 6,500 people were injured in the explosion that devastated the port of Beirut and much of the Lebanese capital on August 4. 300,000 people are also reported to be homeless as a result of the explosion.
According to the authorities, it would be 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate present in warehouse since 2014 which would be at the origin. In addition to the hundreds of victims, especially in the surrounding neighborhoods, the many missing and the 5,000 people injured, the port itself has seen the majority of its hangars and installations blown up with the exception of the 5th basin.
The explosion itself will be compared to that of a tactical nuclear bomb.
The wheat silo, once the pride of Lebanon since it was, during its construction the most important silo in the Arab world, has become a ruin whose side has been torn off.
The explosion at the Port of Beirut was caused, according to the Lebanese authorities, by the inadequate storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, an amount equivalent to that of 600 tonnes of TNT. This merchandise was reportedly seized from a ship in poor condition in 2014 and was bound for Africa. The freighter ended up sinking by itself in Beirut harbor a year later due to a dismal condition.
The merchandise had previously been transferred inside the port of Beirut, initially to be re-routed to Africa, security sources say.
The explosion set off a cloud that many compare to a nuclear bomb even as evidenced by the many videos from that moment posted on social media. It would have reached the equivalent of an earthquake of 3.3 on the Richter scale, the USGC website said last night. .
Ammonium nitrate is an explosive substance already at the origin of many tragedies, such as that of AZF factory in Toulouse, France, on September 21, 2001; of the West Fertilizer ammonia plant near Waco in Texas, in April 2013; of a warehouse in Tianjin port in China in 2015.
This substance is generally used as a fertilizer but can be used to produce explosives which seems to have been the case for this cargo which happened to be destined for a munitions factory.
The consequences at the port level are critical, with facilities that will not be available for several months and a reconstruction estimated to cost several billion dollars for the port facilities alone and from which damage outside its premises is excluded. perimeter.
The port of Beirut, an area where corruption was widespread
The Lebanese authorities’ refusal to set up an international investigation is linked to the fear that the scale of corruption at Lebanon’s main gate would be involved in almost all Lebanese political parties, including some who are now calling for the investigation, some media sources note, under the guise of a temporary authority to manage the port of Beirut whose appointments were made on official sectarian lines.
Saad Hariri, who has been in question almost because of his closeness to the former director of the port of Beirut Hassan Koraytem for more than 20 years, now denies any direct link with him.
On the spot, operators note that the transit of goods often gives rise to a racketeering. Thus, in order to be able to get goods out of the port of Beirut, important undersides must be frequently paid.
Others note that some shipments are not checked. Goods are also under-billed so as not to pay taxes due to a state in financial crisis.