Update (August 10): The shocking Beirut port explosion has killed more than 200 people, including several port workers and seafarers and one CMA CGM staff member, and vessels have been diverted to other nearby hubs with the Port of Beirut not operational until further notice.
Since the horrific explosion in the Beirut port area, which has killed at least 135 people, operations have been put on hold at the port with vessels diverted to other hubs in the region like Damietta and Tripoli.
The death toll, which is expected to rise as the rubble is searched for survivors, already includes a number of dockers and seafarers while many port workers have been injured.
As well as causing damage as far away as the outskirts of Beirut, the blast was responsible for the destruction of the office of the Lebanese Seaman’s Syndicate, the complete destruction of the Hapag-Lloyd office and severe damage to CMA CGM’s headquarters in Lebanon, located a few hundred meters from the site of the explosion.
Despite the 11,400 teu CMA CGM LYRA being in operation on the evening of the disaster, just 1.5 km from the site of the explosion, none of the crew was injured and the vessel was not damaged.
The Marseilles-based company has launched an emergency plan to conduct a thorough health and safety assessment of its 261 staff members based in Beirut. At this stage, the preliminary toll shows two seriously injured and many minor injuries although one of its staff members at the port is currently missing.
An operational organisation has been put in place to establish a logistics hub in Tripoli, noted the French carrier. All CMA CGM vessels are diverted to Tripoli or other terminals in the region until further notice, while the company has organised three recovery sites, of which two are in Beirut and one in Tripoli.
Hapag-Lloyd has cancelled the Beirut call of the Fleur N in its Levante Express (LEX) service, with the Beirut import cargo on board to be discharged at Damietta, Egypt.
The German carrier’s East Med Express(EME) service calling Beirut using the APL Norway will instead divert to Tripoli to discharge the Beirut cargo.
Maersks’s Lebanon office was also seriously damaged and three staff members were lightly injured. No Maersk vessel at the Port of Beirut when the blast occurred but some Maersk containers were on site and the carrier is working to assess the scale of potential damage.
The Danish company is looking to find a solution at the Port of Tripoli to enable its vessels to call there.
Meanwhile MSC reported that no MSC seafarers were in the port at the time of the explosion. The carrier has implemented contingency arrangements for cargo due to be loaded/discharged in Beirut until normal operations resume, including alternative port calls (such as Gioia Tauro, Tekirdag, Mersin, Piraeus) and alternative loading and discharge operations.
According to the government, the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse – this is the same chemical compound which detonated at the Port of Tianjin in 2015.
A 2015 report from shiparrested.com indicates that the chemicals originally ended up at Beirut port in 2013 when a vessel carrying the material encountered technical problems.
The m/v Rhosus, flying the Moldovian flag, was sailing from Batumi Port, Georgia, and heading to Biera in Mozambique carrying the ammonium nitrate in bulk.
Upon inspection of the vessel by port state control, the vessel was forbidden from sailing after which it was abandoned by her owners.
Following a legal case which allowed the crew to return home, the ammonium nitrate was discharged by the port authorities into warehouses, due to the hazardous risks of it remaining on the vessel.
The vessel and cargo then remained in port awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal, which seemingly never occurred.
Consequently, there is controversy in Lebanon over why the material never left the port and several Beirut port officials have placed under house arrest pending an investigation into the explosion.
The destruction could have not come at a worse time for the Middle Eastern state, with the country currently battling a severe economic crisis.
Lebanon went into default in March 2020 and its currency has suffered a severe devaluation, with food prices surging.