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French shipping company wins Beirut port containers contract

BEIRUT (AP) — A giant French shipping company has won a 10-year contract to run the containers terminal at Beirut’s port, which was destroyed by a massive blast in 2020, Lebanon’s minister of public works and the company said Thursday.

Minister Ali Hamie told reporters in Beirut that CMA CGM Group, a world leader in shipping and logistics, met all the conditions to manage, operate and maintain the containers terminal, adding that the deal will bring to state coffers “tens of millions of dollars.”

Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by an intransigent ruling class. The deal could potentially bring badly needed hard currency to the small nation of 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees.

The Aug. 4, 2020, explosion at Beirut’s port killed at least 216 people, according to official records, injured and maimed thousands and devastated entire neighborhoods of the city.

It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history — the result of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate igniting after a fire broke out. The explosion tore through the city with such force, it caused a tremor across the entire country that was heard and felt as far away as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, more than 200 kilometers (180 miles) away.

The port remains wrecked, although partly functional.

CMA CGM Group said in a statement that operations will begin next month and will last for 10 years, with a target of 1.4 million Twenty Equipment Unit, or 20-foot containers. It added that the deal includes a $33 million investment plan to rebuild and modernize the terminal, including $19 million over the first two years.

“We will be launching shortly an ambitious investment plan that will transform Beirut port’s container terminal into a state-of-the-art facility that meets the best international standards,” said CMA CGM’s chairman and CEO Rodolphe Saadé, a dual Lebanese-French citizen.

CMA CGM, founded in Lebanon 43 years ago, is already running the containers terminal in Lebanon’s second largest port in the northern city of Tripoli.

Lebanon and France have historic ties and the small Arab nation was a French protectorate after World War I until independence in 1943.

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