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French company gets contract to run Beirut port container terminal

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BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government has granted a contract of management to a French company.

Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamie confirmed the deal to Arab media on Thursday that CMA CGM to operate and maintain the container terminal at Beirut’s port for the next decade.

Hamie did not give details related to the terms of the contract, but CMA CGM said in a statement they planned to invest $33m to renovate the terminal, including by purchasing new port equipment and constructing a new storage facility.

“The public treasury will be supplied with tens of millions of additional dollars,” Hamie later told a news conference.

The announcement was made some 18 months after the ignition of 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertiliser that was stored in the port for years, killing at least 218 people and wounding more than 6,500 others.

“This project is a statement of our engagement in Beirut’s reconstruction and reinforces our position as a global leader in the terminal industry,” CMA CGM Executive Officer Tanya Saadé Zeenny said in a social media post.

CMA CGM is run by the billionaire French-Lebanese Saadé family. The company acquired the Tripoli port’s container terminal in northern Lebanon last year.

The August 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port wrecked large parts of the Lebanese capital and continues to haunt the country. No officials have been convicted yet.

The blast also exacerbated Lebanon’s crippling economic crisis which has plunged more than three-quarters of its population into poverty.

Mariana Foudoulian, who lost her sister, Gaia, in the tragedy, is among many relatives of victims who say the Lebanese government has deliberately stalled the investigation into the explosion.

She says the government needs to allow the probe to carry on without interruption, rather than push for reconstruction and development projects at the port.

“They are erasing what they did to say, ‘OK, life is going on, we built a new port, and everything is fine’,” Foudoulian told Al Jazeera. “For us, this is not acceptable before the investigation is finished and all those responsible get punished for what they did.”

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