Deadly China blast disrupts world's 10th largest port

The Pak Banker - - BUSINESS -

Ex­plo­sions that sent huge fire­balls through China's Tian­jin port have dis­rupted the flow of cars, oil, iron ore and other items through the world's 10th largest port.

The blast sent ship­ping con­tain­ers tum­bling into one another, leav­ing them in bent, charred piles. Rows of new cars, lined up on vast lots for dis­tri­bu­tion across China, were re­duced to black­ened car­casses. Ships car­ry­ing oil and "haz­ardous prod­ucts" were barred from the port Thurs­day, the Tian­jin Mar­itime Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion said on its of­fi­cial mi­croblog. It also said ves­sels were not al­lowed to en­ter the cen­tral port zone, which is near the blast site.

Tian­jin is the 10th largest port in the world by con­tainer vol­ume and the sev­enth largest in China, ac­cord­ing to the World Ship­ping Coun­cil, mov­ing more con­tain­ers than the ports of Rot­ter­dam, Ham­burg and Los An­ge­les. It han­dles vast quan­ti­ties of me­tal ore, coal, steel, cars and crude oil.

Aus­tralian min­ing gi­ant BHP Bil­li­ton said the blast had dis­rupted iron ore ship­ments and port oper­a­tions, but had not dam­aged any iron ore at the port. "We are work­ing with our cus­tomers to min­i­mize any po­ten­tial im­pact," it said in a state­ment Thurs­day. Volk­swa­gen spokes­woman Larissa Braun said ve­hi­cles at a stor­age fa­cil­ity near the blast were dam­aged.

"We will ship cars from our stor­age fa­cil­i­ties at other ports to en­sure our deal­ers have ad­e­quate sup­ply," she said. Volk­swa­gen's com­po­nent plant, 20 kilo­me­ters (12 miles) away, suf­fered no dam­age, though some em­ploy­ees had mi­nor in­juries, she added.

Toy­ota said it also lost some cars await­ing ship­ment, though it was still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ex­tent of the dam­age. Win­dows broke at some build­ings and deal­er­ships, and a few em­ploy­ees in the area were in­jured, it said. "We are still as­sess­ing the po­ten­tial im­pact on our oper­a­tions, in­clud­ing lo­gis­tics and sup­ply chain man­age­ment," spokesman Ni­cholas Max­field said.

Dan­ish ship­ping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk said oper­a­tions at its Tian­jin port ter­mi­nals, which are 5 kilo­me­ters (3 miles) from the blast site, re­sumed Thurs­day. A few ware­houses owned and op­er­ated by sup­pli­ers to its lo­gis­tics com­pany, Damco, were dam­aged, two of them se­ri­ously. It said late Thurs­day that ac­cess re­stric­tions and on­go­ing sal­vage oper­a­tions have pre­vented it from fully as­sess­ing dam­age to cargo and Maersk Line con­tain­ers.

Port op­er­a­tor Tian­jin Port De­vel­op­ment Hold­ings halted trad­ing of its shares in Hong Kong Thurs­day. The com­pany said in a state­ment to the Hong Kong Stock Ex­change that its port oper­a­tions were nor­mal and it did not an­tic­i­pate "any ma­te­rial loss." It ap­plied for trad­ing to re­sume Fri­day. The stock is also listed in Shang­hai, where it lost 2.1 per­cent in an oth­er­wise ris­ing mar­ket.

Tian­jin is north­ern China's largest port, a gate­way to Bei­jing that has grown in im­por­tance as com­pa­nies seek­ing lower man­u­fac­tur­ing costs mi­grated from China's eastern and south­east­ern manu- fac­tur­ing cen­ters. Mo­torola, Toy­ota, Sam­sung, Nes­tle, Honey­well, Coca-Cola, Bridge­stone, La­farge, Glax­oSmithK­line and Novo Nordisk, among oth­ers, have oper­a­tions in Tian­jin, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment trade pro­mo­tion web­site.

The over­all eco­nomic im­pact of the blast will hinge, in part, on how long the cleanup takes. The gov­ern­ment has so far said lit­tle about the cause of the blast. Tian­jin author­i­ties sus­pended fire­fight­ing Thurs­day so chem­i­cal ex­perts could sur­vey for haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als and the lo­cal En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Bureau said it had iden­ti­fied toluene and chlo­ro­form in the air.

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