The shipping industry is a major contributor to the Lebanese economy, having Lebanon’s capital city Beirut, as its major operations center from where distribution takes place to the Middle East region. The industry itself provides international transportation, logistics, and household services. It covers the ocean division, air freight division, land freight division, customs brokerage division, packing, insurance, and warehousing.
The Lebanese shipping industry witnessed flourishing periods in its early history. Its main expansion was in the mid 20thCentury. Before 1975 the port of Beirut was a major entrepot for the Middle East, especially for goods bound to Damascus and Amman. In 1974 approximately 3.4 million tons of goods were unloaded at the Beirut docks, 668,000 tons were loaded, and 932,000 tons of transit goods were handled. When the Civil War began, the port became a major battleground. Battles also took place there in subsequent clashes between 1978 and 1987.Despite strenuous efforts to restore the port to its full working order, by 1987 it had yet to regain anything like its former prominence. Between the start of the Civil War in 1975 until 1983, the port’s best year was 1980, when some 2.7 million tons of cargo were unloaded, 248,056 tons were loaded, and 209,080 tons were handled in transit. The Israeli siege of Beirut led to a drastic drop in port activity in 1982 when goods handled fell to less than two-thirds of the 1980 level.
Lebanon’s other traditional ports at Tyre and Sidon also witnessed troubled histories. Tyre suffered during the Civil War, during the Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982, and during other Israeli military actions. Sidon was similarly afflicted, escaping only the 1978 assault. Both ports have also witnessed some internal conflicts. After Israel’s 1984 pullout from much of Lebanon Tyre appeared to enjoy a revival for its local economy. Although Sidon suffered from further Shia-Palestinian conflict it recovered modestly and its export trade increased in early 1987.
Israel has persistently intervened in Lebanese maritime affairs. Its actions ranged from dispatching gunboats to positions off Beirut, a fairly common occurrence to closing ports under Israeli control such as Tyre and Sidon in 1984. From time to time, Israeli forces searched ships bound to or from Lebanese ports. In 1984 late 1986 and early 1987, Israel also stopped several ships ferrying passengers between Larnaca in Cyprus and Jounieh. Israel claimed that the ships were being used to infiltrate Palestinian guerrillas into Lebanon and warned that the Larnaca-Jounieh link would be closed altogether if the vessels continued to carry Palestinian fighters.
Although the shipping industry witnessed some past downturns however current numbers show increasing records and expanding activities. Lebanonâ€™s Port of Beirut TEU activity up to July 2008 reached 287,898 TEU, representing an increase of 16% from the same period last year. On the other hand, Port of Beirut TEU activity increased 30.9% year on year to 444,165 in 2007.With these records, expectations for future growth in the shipping industry are up to 30%, thus making it one of the leading Middle Eastern countries in this industry.
Port of Beirut
The Port of Beirut is the main port in Lebanon located in the capital city, Beirut, and is one of the largest ports in the Eastern Mediterranean.The Port of Beirut and Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport are the main ports of entry into the country.
The port is operated and managed by the Gestion Et Exploitation du Port de Beyrouth (GEPB), which is French for Port Authority of Beirut.
Since the end of the Lebanese Civil War, the port has gone through a major reconstruction and updating program with the construction of new infrastructures such as the new container terminal and the rehabilitation of various existing infrastructure. It is aiming to attract increased shipping services by marketing its new and updated facilities.
It’s an important gateway for transporting freight to Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and the Gulf States.
The Port of Beirut consists of a total area of 1,200,000m2 and has 4 basins, 16 quays, and a new container terminal located beside quay 16 capable of handling 745,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) per year.
The new Logistics Free Zone consists of a total area of 11,200m2 and has been extremely successful since its relaunch after the end of the civil war.
The general cargo area consists of 12 warehouses and a grain silo with a capacity of 120,000 tons.
The Port of Beirut has been selected as a transshipment hub for the 2nd and 3rd largest container shipping companies in the world, Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and French-based. The latter is currently in the process of building a $12 million regional headquarters near the port.
The historic first basin of the port will be completely re-developed by Solidere, the $2 billion Lebanese real estate company that is rebuilding the Beirut Central District (BCD). The re-development will involve transforming quays 1 and 2 into a public area along with the construction of a cruise ship terminal and other public facilities.
The port lacks a railway connection, however, as part of long-term plans to reinstate the railway system in Lebanon, plans are to have a railway link to the port.
Beirut Container Terminal
The Beirut Container Terminal, located by quay 16, is managed by an American-British-Lebanese consortium named Beirut Container Terminal Consortium (BCTC), which is made up of the US-based International Maritime Associates (IMA), British-based Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC), and Lebanese-based International Port Management Beirut (IPMB). It began operations in December 2004, although the facilities had already been completed in 2000.
Quay 16 is the longest and deepest of all the quays at a length of 600m and a depth of 15.5m, which allows it to accommodate the largest container ships in the world.
The terminal is capable of handling 745,000 TEU per year. However, due to high demand, space along quays 12, 13, and 14 is being used by the container terminal to allow it to process up to 1,200,000 TEU per year and reduce vessel wait times.
The container terminal is equipped with 5 ship-to-shore container cranes and 10 rubber-tyred gantry cranes.
Quay 16 will be expanded 500m to the east reaching the mouth of the Beirut River by reclaiming 140,000m2 of land. The water depth along the expanded quay will be 17.5m. The expansion will increase the container terminal capacity by 450,000 TEUs. The project will cost $120 million and will be completed in 2012.