Blast may have devastating impact on Lebanon's trade flows
The port of Beirut is Lebanon's busiest, vital for imported grains, cars and goods. The port saw 610 vessel calls last year, 150 of which were fully cellular containerships, according to Lloyd's List Intelligence
With Beirut's port closed, it is likely that Lebanon’s second port of Tripoli — believed to be operating at just 40% capacity due to the health crisis — will become the main gateway for emergency supplies and normal trading
THE port of Beirut is vital to Lebanon’s economy and Lloyd's List Intelligence data reveals why the devastating blast will likely have such an impact beyond the immediate aftermath.
Whatever the source of the explosion, operational consequences will be significant, with the likelihood that Lebanon’s second port of Tripoli — believed to be operating at just 40% capacity due to the health crisis — now set to become the main gateway for emergency supplies and normal trading.
Beirut is by far the most significant import gateway for Lebanon and Tripoli is not set up to increase operations overnight.
The blast which shook the port late on Tuesday will have severe repercussions for food and goods supplies in the country. A grains silo was damaged in the series of explosions, which were linked to a store of ammonium nitrate, a commodity used in fertilisers.
Lebanon's reliance on imports is greater than its exports, leaving it with a deficit. The country's total value of imports was $14.2bn last year, while its exports totalled $3bn.
Damaged grain facilities
The port's container terminal handled 1.2m teu in 2019 and will struggle to replace that capacity at alternative ports.
Lebanon also typically imports 1.2m tonnes of wheat and 900,000 tonnes of corn each year. Barley imports amounted to 70,000 tonnes last year, although the country was expected to import up to 200,000 tonnes during the 2020-21 season, according to analyst Maxigrain, as cited by Standard & Poor's.
It mainly relies on Russia and Ukraine for its grains shipments.
“From a trade flow perspective, Lebanon predominantly imports wheat and corn from the Black Sea and some Argentine corn,” said Danish grains consultant Jesper Buhl. “Lebanon imports most intensively during the late summer and fall months with monthly averages ranging between 150.000 and 300.000 tonnes.
“With grain facilities damaged in Beirut and no immediate alternative it is hard to imagine this import level is likely to continue in the coming weeks and months,” he said, adding that the nearby port of Tripoli did not seem to have an adequate grain-handling facility.
Lloyd's List Intelligence data shows that 150 fully cellular containerships called at Beirut last year, followed by 121 general cargo ships with container capacity. Sixty-eight vehicle carriers also made their way there in 2019, while 56 chemical tankers and 33 bulk carriers visited the port.
Beirut was expecting to see six vessel calls at the port on August 8, the highest number of vessels in the coming week, Lloyd's List Intelligence data shows. Three were due on Tuesday, while five were scheduled for today and another five on August 6. A further five vessels were due on August 10.
Lebanon also imports chemicals, animal products and metals.
Tripoli is the second-busiest port in the country, with 101 general cargo visits last year, according to Lloyd's List Intelligence.