In ruins: Insights on Lebanon’s former No 1 maritime logistics hub

The most important logistics hub for maritime traffic in the Near and Middle East has been irreversibly destroyed on 4 August 2020. 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in a storage hall in the Beirut port area, killing hundreds of people and causing widespread damage. The highly explosive cargo came to Beirut on board the general cargo ship RHOSUS sailing from Georgia to Mozambique with an unscheduled halt in Beirut port in October 2013. Later the owner of the vessel declared abandonment due to financial difficulties. In the past six years, the dangerous cargo was stored in a warehouse at the port without special safety precautions.

The port of Beirut is left in ruins. The medium-sized port was the largest and most important container port in Lebanon. FleetMon's port usage rate based on AIS data indicates 55% usage by cargo vessels, 26% usage by sailing ships and yachts, and 14% port usage by tankers. Around 500 vessels called the port per month before the incident. 70% of Lebanese imports entered the country through the port of Beirut. The commodity value of imports is $ 20 billion, while the value of exports is only $ 3.5 billion. Most of the goods are imported from China as well as Italy, Greece, Germany, and the USA.

Before the blast, Beirut was amongst the ten most important ports in the Mediterranean and considered the gateway to the Middle East with 12 direct connections. Eight direct routes lead to China and 27 to Europe showing its importance in global shipping. Large parts of the port infrastructure and superstructure have been destroyed as well as ample storage complexes like the huge grain silo, which shaped the port's scenery. It has been blown away by the explosions in port. Significant amounts of grain were stored there to supply extensive parts of the country's population. According to the United Nations, the devastation in Beirut's port could also affect the situation of many people in the neighboring country Syria. The port of Beirut was an essential hub for handling humanitarian aid. Lebanon and Syria have been struggling with an economic crisis and lack of medical supplies due to the coronavirus pandemic before.

The secretary general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Kitack Lim, stated in response to the explosion, "I express my deepest condolences and sincerest sympathies to the families of the victims and to the government and people of Lebanon following the catastrophic explosions in the Port of Beirut. The port provides a vital artery bringing food, medicines, and supplies to the country, and its destruction will have devastating consequences. The United Nations is assisting the immediate response to the incident. The IMO stands ready to assist in any way we can."

Shipping traffic is now temporarily diverted to the port of Tripoli in the north of Lebanon. The port is much smaller, but because of the country's economic crisis, the number of vessels docking in Lebanon is fewer than in the past, which will help Tripoli handle the additional shipping activity. Nevertheless, the crisis-plagued country is hit hard by the destruction of its most important port.

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