He had read up well, looked at photographs and films but nothing could prepare René van der Plas for the enormous damage he would find in the harbour of Beirut. “This is on a scale you can’t really imagine,” says the director of the international branch of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, looking out over the wreckage.
“It scares the shit out of you. There are so many distribution centers completely ruined. Ships that were moored at the quay are now lying on their side at the bottom of the harbour basin. Not to mention the crater and the large grain silos that are standing here and have been completely destroyed. It’s very impressive and also sad.”
Van der Plas is in Beirut for a few days to get a first impression, to see what is actually needed and how Dutch expertise can be put to the best possible use in the future. “A number of short-term actions are needed: repairing the transport chains and looking at how the harbour basins that may still be in operation can again be used as efficiently as possible”
The fact that the container terminal is partly operational again impresses the director. “It seems that the biggest concern is not there. And with extra dredging work, for example, you will soon be able to receive larger ships at the location of the crater, which can also be very valuable.”
Van der Plas held talks with the authorities, the public and private sectors and he also sees opportunities for the long term: “I think it is important for this port to develop a vision. The way they steer, control and governance” The port is also called ‘the cave of Ali Baba and the forty robbers’ because of the lively port corruption, nepotism and bribery that took place there.
Directly after the explosion, Minister Kaag for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation made 1 million euros available through the Red Cross. A few days later, another 3 million euros was made available. That money now goes via Dutch NGOs to their partner organisations in Lebanon. This provides aid for food, water, shelter and medical care. The aid is provided in cooperation with international organisations such as the World Bank as much as possible
“The Netherlands has something to offer when it comes to expertise on how to set up a port”, says Hester Somsen, who led the crisis team in Beirut in recent weeks. She says that the awareness was immediately there, how important the port is.
“Imagine that with us the port of Rotterdam would be halfway out, and what the impact of that would be. Especially in a country like Lebanon where the port is a lifeline. Both for the import of food, fuel and all kinds of other basic necessities and to keep the economy running and prevent further scarcity”
According to Somsen, the stability of Lebanon comes first: “If Lebanon is and remains a stable country, it is good for security in the region. That means that Lebanese can stay here. Wanting stability in Lebanon means contributing to the economic activities that are here.”