|Beirut Port set to become regional hub
|Swiss firm signs deal with harbor to transship goods from Far East to the Arab world.
The port of Beirut signed a deal with the Swiss Mediterranean Shipment Company (MSC) to use the port as a transshipment center, the first of its kind in Lebanon.
Goods coming from the Far East, especially China, will be directly shipped through the Lebanese port to Turkey, Syria, Egypt and other neighboring countries, instead of having to stop in Greece, or Malta. "It is the first time an international shipping company chooses Beirut as a hub port for transshipments," said the president of the International Chamber of Navigation in Beirut, Elie Zakhour. He added that "This will definitely increase the revenues of the port, create opportunities for employment and boost the Lebanese economy as a whole."
This indirectly benefits traders said general director of MSC Kheirallah al-Zein, adding that "there will be a decrease in the price on exports as traders shorten transportation time from 35 to 15 days, thus selling more goods, paying less insurance on shipping, and getting the goods to Europe more rapidly."
The new agreement would surely impose the handling of 450,000 containers until the end of 2005, according to Zakhour.
By comparison, Beirut Port handled 390,000 containers in 2004, according to Zakhour, who warned 450,000 is the actual capacity limit of the port.
To fix this problem, Zakhour called on the government to take the appropriate measures to expand the size of the wharf from the actual 600 meters completed as a first phase to 1900 meters in order to enable the port to handle up to 1,250,000 containers per year.
"The government should start acting now as the expansion of capacity needs two to three years to complete."
He added that the port needs to increase its numbers of cranes. The port already has three Chinese cranes, which will become four as of the end of October. A fifth crane should be operational by October 2006.
"Many other companies have approached us for transshipping through the port of Beirut, but we had to decline as we lack the required capacity" explained Zakhour.
Other hub ports such those in Greece and Italy are witnessing increased traffic, with the costs incurred by large ships carrying about 7000 containers reaching as high as $90,000, said Zakhour, adding that transshipping companies are looking for other ports and would prefer to come to Beirut. Also, freight charges, such as handling expenses would be decreased.
Following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 14, the six first months of the year saw a downward trend relative to those of last year with an 8 percent drop in the number of ships arriving and departing from the port and a 17 percent drop in cargo volume for the relative period, according to Zakhour. But for July, Zakhour is confident that the volume of containers could reach 40,000, a significantly high number relative to previous months.
Responding to the claim that the port is not operating efficiently, Zakhour noted that recorded profit for Beirut Port jumped from $75 million in 2003 to $89 million in 2004. "And today, despite the assassination of former [Premier] Rafik Hariri, an internationally reputed company such as MSC has chosen Beirut as a hub port, a sign that the latter meets operational professional standards" added Zakhour.
The Daily Star