The Sharjah-based Gulftainer is preparing to issue equipment and IT package tenders before the end of the year to support its newly acquired container terminal concession at the Port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon.

The concession will require Gulftainer to make an initial investment of between $50m-$60m in new equipment and machinery, including three ship-to-shore gantry cranes and nine yard cranes, needed to begin operations at the new terminal.

The operator won a 25-year concession to operate the terminal in November, after several stalled attempts to secure the contract, partly due to political unrest in the region.

The tenders being prepared cover the provision of port equipment such as toploaders, carousel equipment and forklifts, all required for the loading and uploading of containers. An IT systems package will also be tendered.

Gulftainer has already secured the supply of some equipment, with Chinese company ZPMC providing the gantry ship-to-shore cranes. Gulftainer opted for the supplier partly because there were few companies able to deliver the cranes within a 12-month delivery time.

The construction of the container terminal infrastructure has been tendered separately by the Lebanese government, with much of the infrastructure already in place. A 600-metre quayside has been built by China Harbour Engineering Company. 

The terminal still requires the construction of utility facilities before Gulftainer can move in and begin operations. However, it is expected that by April 2013 there will be at least 50,000 square metres of stacking area available for use.

“Then I’d feel safe giving a commitment to a shipping line saying ‘yes we can operate’ and we have the space available to do things,” says Peter Richards, managing director, at Gulftainer.

However, the cranes will not be delivered until December 2013, and Gulftainer is in discussions with the port authority to put in temporary mobile harbour cranes so the operator can start using the stacking yards in a phased manner as the final stages of construction are completed. 

Richards states that there is enough demand for the port’s facilities to justify beginning operations before the crane delivery.

“Look at situation in Lebanon, Beirut is handling 1 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) a year and is congested. There is a need to open a new port for the country itself, let alone to support transit or trans-shipment cargo,” he says.

The turmoil in nearby Syria also means that few shipping companies will dock at its ports due to security issues and spiralling insurance costs. The Port of Tripoli offers an alternative means of getting cargo into the country.

Within the first year of operation, the port will operate a capacity of between 130,000 and 140,000 TEUs, moving up to 500,000 TEUs after five years of operation, Richards says.

Gulftainer also operates Umm Qasr port in Iraq and expects to attract transit cargo to the Port of Tripoli that is heading into Iraq.

The Iraqi container shipping market is a key focus area for the UAE operator for the coming years.

“We believe that Iraq is going to be the highest growth area for containerised cargo in the Middle East region in the next 5-10 years,” says Richards.

Originally the Port of Tripoli concession was put out on tender at the end of last year, but postponed due to regional turbulence. It was then tendered in April, but only Gulftainer submitted a bid on the project. Finally in October, Gulftainer and a Chinese firm submitted bids, with the UAE operator securing the contract.