|Port of Beirut looks to gain new ground - literally
|Authorities mull plan to reclaim land to boost capacity
After breaking the record in container handling in 2007, Beirut Port authorities are considering reclaiming part of the nearby shore to expand the fast-growing activities at this vital route, the head of the port said on Thursday.
"In view of the impressive results in 2007, we are studying a plan to reclaim part of the nearby shore to increase the container handling," Hassan Qoraitem told The Daily Star.
According to Qoraitem, the project, which will cost around $40 million, will cover an area of 150,000 square meters.
He added that if everything goes according to plan, the land reclamation at Beirut Port will start at the end of 2008.
Qoraitem stressed that Beirut Port handled 948,000 containers in 2007 and this was the maximum capacity the port can handle.
"We worked at full capacity and ... we want the port to [be able to] handle 1.5 million containers in the future," he added.
More than 80 percent of Lebanon's imports go through Beirut Port. The port is also a major source of income for the Treasury, which levies taxes on most imported goods such as cars, machines and electronics.
Qoraitem said transshipments at Beirut Port represented more than 50 percent of the total port activities at the container section.
Beirut Port was rehabilitated and it expanded to encompass four docks, two new quays and a new container terminal with am annual 700,000-container capacity. The container terminal, which became operational in February 2005, is equipped with five ship-to-shore gantry cranes (outreach 60 meters.) and 10 rubber-tired gantry cranes.
Container handling at Beirut Port rose to 948,000 in 2007 from 595,000 in 2006, 465,000 in 2005 and 390,000 in 2004.
Thanks to the increased activity, Beirut Port made a net income of $90 million in 2007.
"Beirut Port has became a transit point for many countries in the region and that's why we want to expand the port to meet the increasing demand in container handling," Qoraitem said.
The bulk of the containers handled by Beirut Port go to Syria, Jordan and Iraq, which are experiencing good economic growth.
The Beirut Container Terminal Consortium (BCTC) was awarded a contract by the port authorities to operate the advanced container terminal.
"More than four years ago, Beirut Port handled less than 350,000 containers each year. But now we are working at full capacity, which is close to a million containers," Qoraitem said.
Beirut Port came under the Israeli naval siege in the summer of 2006 and officials said the blockade caused heavy losses.
However, Beirut Port succeeded in overcoming the political problems in the country as more countries such as Greece turned the facility into a transit point for shipping.
Qoraitem said despite Beirut Port's relatively small size compared to the ones in Dubai, the facility offers the best services in the region.
"We are realistic. We know we cannot compete with Dubai, which has a huge infrastructure, but we surely can compete with many countries in the region and even some European nations," he said.
Asked about the possibility of privatizing the port management, Qoraitem said there was no reason for this step since the terminal services were being handled by private firm BCTC.
The Daily Star