Immediately following the catastrophic Port of Beirut explosion on August 4, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of Defense moved to authorize the transfer of commercial operations typically managed by the Beirut port to be diverted north to the port of Tripoli, the country’s second largest port. The move was intended to keep goods and services flowing for an economy that had already been grappling with severe economic and financial dislocation.
Per reports, the Port of Tripoli is operating at 40% and is able to accommodate shipments originally meant for Beirut. Lebanon’s new reliance on the Port of Tripoli would increase its already rising strategic value as a critical maritime transit point in the eastern Mediterranean. Given the severity of the blast, however, the Port of Tripoli now takes on importance also from the point of view of facilitating the delivery of aid to the country.
The port has been a focus of Chinese and Russian investment, at least in part, due to its geographic proximity to Syria. (It is situated just 30 km from the Syrian border.) In 2019, Rosneft secured operational control of the Port of Tripoli’s oil and gas terminal under a 20-year concession agreement, with additional guarantees to undertake expansion works on site. In May 2020, the Russian company registered a new company in Lebanon, Levante Storage S.A.R.: to manage its in-country terminal operations.
China has also recently expressed interest in the port, as it would be a well-positioned logistics hub for Beijing’s access to Syrian reconstruction. In December 2018, China’s state-owned Cosco Shipping was the first to dock a Chinese vessel at Tripoli as part of a newly established maritime route from China to the Mediterranean. The possibility of the port’s further expansion by China Harbour Engineering Company has also been under consideration. Subsequently, the port has been implicated in a series of Chinese letters of intent signed with the Lebanese government in June 2020 regarding proposed infrastructure projects (including a $3–4 billion railway project linking Lebanese cities, including Tripoli).