Container shipping activity at the port of Beirut in Lebanon is increasing, partly due to traffic being diverted from Syria’s main ports.

The latest figures from Beirut show that in January the port handled a total of 56,239 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container ships. This is an increase of almost 29 per cent compared with the same month last year and is one of the biggest growth rates recorded at the port since 2009.  

If this rapid growth continues, 2013 could surpass container volumes achieved at the port last year, which had already hit record levels. A total of 634,969 TEUs entered the port in 2012, an increase of 8.5 per cent on the 585,220 TEUs recorded in 2011.

Including trans-shipment container business, the port handled 1,041,756 TEUs in 2012, an increase from 1,034,249 TEUs recorded in 2011.

Given the rise in traffic, the port also recorded higher income levels in 2012 compared with 2011. It achieved $158.84m income last year, an increase of just over 10 per cent on the $174.74m recorded the previous year.  

Before the conflict in Syria, a lot of trade was conducted between the Middle East and Europe through Syrian ports at Latakia and Tartous.

With the fighting worsening, particularly in the Latakia region, Syria’s ports are seeing declining business volumes as shipping companies look to divert their ships to other ports, such as Port of Beirut.

“Given intense fighting between insurgents and pro-government forces along the roads connecting coastal cities to Damascus and north Syria, as well as southwards into Lebanon, regional trade flowing to and from ports has already fallen considerably from its pre-war levels,” says Meda al-Rowas, senior analyst at Exclusive Analysis, recently acquired by IHS.

“Syria has two container terminals, located at Latakia and Tartous, and an oil terminal located at Baniyas. We assess that Tartous port is the least likely to see fighting in the surrounding regions in the one-year outlook.

“Fighting will probably increase in Latakia province from mid-2013, as government forces abandon Aleppo to concentrate on the coast and adjoining mountains, where large minorities of Alawis and Christians live. Latakia port and the Baniyas oil refinery are likely to be aspirational targets for insurgents,” she adds.

Given the increasing traffic, the port of Beirut is close to completing the construction of a new container terminal, with the new facilities expected to be operational from June this year.