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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Blaze at key port as Erdoğan declares state of emergency for Türkiye earthquake zone

ISTANBUL – President Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency on Tuesday covering Türkiye’s 10 southern provinces hit by devastating earthquakes, and called it a disaster zone to bolster rescue efforts.

Families wait for news on the fate of their loved ones trapped beneath the rubble of buildings in Kahramanmaraş, near the earthquake’s epicentre, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Türkiye’s south-east on February 7, 2023. The combined death toll has risen to above 5,000 for Turkey and Syria after the region’s strongest quake in nearly a century. Picture: OZAN KOSE / AFP

The move came as the death toll from Monday’s two major earthquakes, which hit a wide area of Türkiye and Syria, exceeded 5,000 and as rescuers raced against time to dig people out of the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Declaring a state of emergency permits the president and cabinet to bypass parliament in enacting new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary.

“We have decided to declare a state of emergency to ensure that operations are carried out rapidly,” Erdoğan said in his second speech since the first quake hit early on Monday.

He said the state of emergency would last three months – meaning it would end shortly before presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled on May 14. It could also be extended.

Erdoğan previously declared a nationwide state of emergency in July 2016 in the wake of a failed military coup.

Türkiye’s president also said that 70 countries had offered help with search and rescue operations and that the government planned to use hotels in the tourism hub of Antalya, to the west, to temporarily house people impacted by the quakes.

He said the death toll in Türkiye had risen to 3,549 people.

Smoke rises from burning containers at the port in the earthquake-stricken town of İskenderun, Türkiye, on February 7, 2023. Picture: Benoit Tessier / REUTERS

Meanwhile, hundreds of shipping containers were still ablaze at Türkiye’s İskenderun Port on Tuesday, sending thick black smoke into the sky and shutting down operations, forcing freight liners to divert vessels to other ports.

Türkiye’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.

Drone footage showed 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.

Turkish shipping agency Tribeca said on Tuesday some cargo areas of Limak port at the İskenderun 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 in an advisory on Tuesday there had been significant damage to logistics and transport infrastructure around the earthquake epicentre, including at the Port of İskenderun.

The shipping group 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 transhipment ports – including Port of Mersin (in Türkiye) and Port Said (in Egypt),” it said.

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

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 to 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.

İskenderun is home to heavy industries such as steel and is one of the two major container hubs on Türkiye’s south-eastern 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 on Twitter that operations were continuing in ports apart from İskenderun.

Türkiye’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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