Shipping containers ablaze at Turkey’s Iskenderun Port, operations halted

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Hundreds of shipping containers were ablaze on Tuesday at Turkey’s Iskenderun Port which was damaged due to the earthquake, shutting down operations and forcing freight liners to divert vessels to other ports.

Turkey’s maritime authority said on Monday that the port, located on the Mediterranean coast in the southern province of Hatay, was damaged due to the earthquake that struck Turkey and neighboring Syria.

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Drone footage showed fierce flames blackening hundreds of containers on the dock, with water jets from a fire truck dwarfed by the scale of the blaze that broke out on Monday. Thick black smoke billowed into the sky.

Turkish shipping agency Tribeca said on Tuesday some cargo areas of Limak port at the Iskenderun complex were still on fire and the terminal was closed to all operations until further notice.

Leading global container shipping group AP Moller Maersk said there had been significant damage to logistics and transport infrastructure around the earthquake epicenter, including at the Port of Iskenderun.

It said it was looking to divert ships as needed, given the “severe structural damage, leading to a complete stop of all operations until further notice.”

“We will need to perform a change of destination for all bookings bound for the port or already on the water. We are currently planning to divert containers to nearby hubs within operational feasibility or hold at transshipment ports - including Port of Mersin (in Turkey) and Port Said (in Egypt),” it said.

Maersk added in an updated advisory on Tuesday that a fire broke out amongst containers at the terminal on Monday evening after the earthquake struck and the company was working to assess the potential loss of cargo, but the fire had yet to be controlled by local authorities.

“It’s not yet known how long recovery efforts will take and when the port can undergo a full inspection of the damage.”

German container shipping line Hapag Lloyd said it was taking shipments from Mersin given the closure of Iskenderun.

A source from a container broker said the fire most likely started out in a container filled with flammable industrial oil, judging by the flames and smoke.

Other containers were toppled on their sides, thwarting access for the emergency services. Authorities had tried in vain to tackle the fire by boat on Monday, with damage nearby from the quake hampering access to the site.

More than 1,200 buildings were destroyed by the earthquake in Hatay province alone.

Iskenderun is home to heavy industry such as steel and is one of the two major container hubs on Turkey’s southeastern shores. The port focuses especially on domestic Turkish trade, rather than having a broader regional hub role, according to a shipping source.

Following inspections of the damage after the earthquake, the maritime authority said on Monday that operations were continuing in ports apart from Iskenderun.

Turkey’s Ceyhan port was ready to resume Iraqi crude oil loadings from storage on Tuesday, but bad weather was preventing vessels from berthing, a trade source with direct knowledge said.

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