PortandTerminal.com, August 6, 2020
TRIPOLI – With Lebanon’s main port in Beirut little more than a smouldering ruin, all eyes now turn to the port in Tripoli to take up the slack. This latest tragedy in Beirut strikes a country that had already been brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic and its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Tripoli port will now serve as Lebanon’s main shipping centre after an explosion left the Beirut port largely unusable, Minister of Public Works Michel Najjar said.
The Lebanese government is assessing capabilities of Tripoli in the north of the country and other ports, Najar told LBCI television in an interview. The Tripoli port is operating at 40% of its capacity and is able to receive Beirut-bound ships, an official at the port told the channel in a separate interview.
Before its destruction on Tuesday, Beirut Port was the largest shipping and clearing point in Lebanon, through which approximately 70% of the incoming and outgoing trade traffic to and from the country passes, according to the port’s website. The port says it handled almost 1 million teu per year and 6 million tons of cargo.
“Our big brother is sick, but we are ready to take over until he recovers” – Ahmad Tamer, Port of Tripoli
Ahmad Tamer, director-general of the port of Tripoli, said that his port was ready to replace the activities of Beirut until it recovers, reported the local French-language Commerce du Levant. Tamer added that last year the port handled 2 million tonnes but has a capacity of 5 million tonnes.
“We are able to accommodate all types of ships,” Tamer said, and by cutting back on empty land in the Special Economic Zone, the future adjacent free zone, he said that Tripoli could also increase its storage capacity.
Concerns over wheat imports
Lebanon produces only about 10% of the grain it needs to feed its 6.8 million people and relies on imports, mostly from Eastern Europe, to cover the shortfall. The country generally imports 1.2 million mt of wheat and 900,000 mt of corn each year, said Elena Neroba, a market analyst at Maxigrain.
The grain silos at the port in Beirut, which have a capacity of 120,000 tons and handled almost all of the country’s grain imports, were completely destroyed in Tuesday’s explosion. The government has tried to reassure people saying that it has enough wheat stockpiled to last for a month-and-a-half and isn’t expecting a crisis.
Ahmad Tamer in Tripoli says that his port is already handling 100,000 mt of wheat a year which represents less than 10% of the national annual consumption. Tamer says that Tripoli can pick the slack left by the loss of Beirut as a grain import center.
The only concern is the lack of a storage silo in Tripoli, even though the plan to build one has been on the shelf for several years. “Still, that shouldn’t be a problem” Tamer reassured.
“During this exceptional period, we should be able to send wheat directly to the millers. But if it is absolutely necessary to store, we can do it in warehouses, which already exist, and which meet international health standards, ” he said.
This week’s blast in Beirut is just the latest hardship to befall the Lebanese people.
Lebanon has been going through its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, and tensions were already high with street demonstrations against the government. The Lebanese pound has lost over 80 per cent of its value since October when nationwide anti-corruption protests began to rock the country.
According to a recent UN report, by the end of April over half of the country was struggling to put the most basic produce on the table as food prices had risen by 56 per cent since October. Preliminary results show that between mid-March and May, they rose by 50 per cent.
For now, at least, the government and other officials are putting on a brave face and reassuring the Lebanese people that when it comes to grain at least, they will not have to worry.
All eyes in Lebanon now turn to the Port of Tripoli to help save their country from hunger.
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