Beirut port should be rebuilt by a private firm, says shipping group

Published: 10 August 2020 - 4 a.m.

Beirut should adopt a ‘build, operate, transfer’ model to carry out the multi-billion dollar reconstruction job required for its port, according to the chairman of International Chamber of Navigation of Beirut, which represents 45 shipping agencies operating at the port.

Elie Zakhour, chairman of ICN Beirut, said while it’s too early to determine the exact costs of rebuilding the port, he said it’s “estimated at billions of dollars”.

“Due to the dire financial and economic situation in the country and the empty state treasury, the government will not be able to finance the reconstruction process,” Zakhour told Arabian Business.

“The best solution is to adopt the BOT (build, operate, transfer’) system, whereby the private company that wins the bid for the reconstruction of the destroyed section of the port, operates it for a specified period, before returning it to the state’s treasury after this period expires,” he said.

Zakhour said the BOT system has been successfully adopted in many countries around the world, as it allows the government to share revenues with the port operator.

“Certainly, if the government adopts the BOT system for the reconstruction of the old port, China will participate in the bid, particularly since it has successfully operated several ports in the world through this system,” he said.

“The Greek port of Piraeus, used to handle less than 2 million TEUs per year when it was administered by the government, but these figures increased to 5.6 million TEUs in 2019, after it was operated and managed by a Chinese group.”

Zakhour said the initial onsite assessment showed that the western section of the port, which deals with regular ships and grain tankers, was almost completely destroyed. The eastern section, which includes the container terminal and its equipment of bridge cranes, trucks and equipment, showed the station and its equipment did not suffer significant damage.

Port of Tripoli: partial role

Zakhour said the port of Tripoli is well equipped to be an alternative to the port of Beirut in the short to medium term.

“The port of Tripoli has developed a 600-metre pier equipped with two bridge cranes, as well as that it includes other berths capable of dealing with regular ships and loaded grain,” he said.

“Its logistics and marine capacity is able to receive large ships and containers as much as 230 thousand TEUs per year, in addition to dealing with normal cargo and about 5 million tons per year.

“The container terminal at Beirut Port has a 1,100-metre-long pier equipped with 15 bridge cranes to handle giant container ships and a courtyard with a capacity of more than 1.5 million TEUs per year,” he added.

Negative repercussions on the shipping sector

“The decline in Beirut port traffic has had a negative impact on the activity of shipping workers in Beirut port, such as maritime agencies, cargo brokers and transport intermediaries, as well as cargo and unloading operators at the port,” Zakhour added.

He pointed out that “the agencies operating in the port of Beirut are unable to operate in other Lebanese ports such as Tripoli, Sidon and Tyre without obtaining a licence to operate the maritime agencies from the Ministry of Transport in these ports”.

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