Boss of Rotterdam port shocked by scale of Beirut disaster

Rene van der Plas says Lebanese gov't must adopt new strategy for port following August 4 explosion
Beirut port, Port of rotterdam

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The director of Europe's largest port, Rene van der Plas, has urged the Lebanese government to adopt a new strategy that best suits the port of Beirut after the August 4 explosion, Arabian Business has reported.

The Port of Rotterdam boss on Saturday concluded a "four-day reconnaissance and support mission" to Lebanon to examine more closely the extent of the damage caused by the blast.

Speaking to Arabian Business before leaving Beirut, he seemed shocked by the scale of the disaster that struck the port of Beirut.

"What I saw is beyond imagination, the destruction is located 4-5km from the centre of the explosion, and from my hotel room I could see the broken windows, demolished houses, sunken ships, even my hotel was slightly damaged," he said.

The huge explosion in the port of Beirut killed at least 180 people, injured about 6,500 and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.

He emphasised that the restoration of supply chains is one of the top priorities for the country as a whole. "I have had intensive talks with members of the public and private sectors in Lebanon to explore the best process for the rehabilitation of the port of Beirut," said Van der Plas.

Van der Plas said it was too early to give an exact figure on the initial cost of rebuilding the port of Beirut and the time needed to rebuild it.

"Of course, much needs to be done, and the top priority should be to enable the port of Beirut to meet the country's short-term needs, especially those related to the import of vital goods. I think that the container terminal team did a great achievement of putting this terminal back into service," he told Arabian Business.

"There are a lot of measures to be taken, but one of them could be to evaluate how we can make better use of the still intact port areas and see if we can use these areas to optimise the use of the port as quickly as possible - that's for the short term of course."

The Port of Beirut has resumed 100 percent of its operational procedures for shipping and unloading, according to the new director general of the Port of Beirut, Bassem Al-Kaissi.

Van der Plas ruled out any interest of the port of Rotterdam to participate in a possible bid for the reconstruction of the port of Beirut in the future, saying: "As a port developer, we could only share our experience and put our expertise at Lebanon's disposal. We will act in a broader international context, with the World Bank and the Government of the Netherlands. We are really looking at how we can use our expertise and experience in redeveloping the port of Beirut. As for the reconstruction schedule for the port of Beirut, the short-term plan should be implemented as soon as possible, within a few weeks.

"I think it is very urgent to look for the best ways to improve the efficiency of the entire port logistics system and to review the master plan for this area, as well as to improve the port security," he told Arabian Business.

A team of experts from the port of Rotterdam is currently working with the World Bank on a rapid damage assessment of the port of Beirut, with a focus on Lebanon's economic recovery.

The port of Rotterdam reached a throughput of 218.9 million tons in the first six months of 2020, 9.1 percent less than in the first half of 2019 due to the impact of the global pandemic.

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