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Shipping activities have resumed this morning in the northern Chinese port of Tianjin after being suspended following two devastating explosions last night that rocked the city.

Local news reports said the explosions originated from a shipment of “dangerous chemical goods” housed in a warehouse at a container terminal in the Binhai New Area of the port.

According to a notice from Tianjin Port Authority, which was passed on to The Loadstar, work was halted at the port by 01:00 this morning due to the explosions and subsequent fires.

“All vessel movement suspended. The Customs House is in a state of full emergency martial law. Tianjin Port main channel is in contingency traffic control. Vehicle traffic was banned for No.7 Gate of Tianjin Port,” it said.

However, a later update issued at approximately midday local time said that although there was no cargo flow on the landside, pilot work had resumed and vessels could now move through the port.

Latest estimates from Chinese broadcasters place the death toll from the blast at 44, with 66 critically injured and 500 hospitalised.

It is not yet clear exactly what caused the explosions which were felt miles away by residents, who reported feeling an earthquake, huge bangs, fireballs, plumes of smoke, shattering glass and collapsed rooftops.

One shipping source told The Loadstar that the cause remains to be ascertained, but there was speculation. The incident spot and nearby area have been cordoned off by authorities worried about the continuing fire and further risk of explosion, and there are “rumours that the incident may be caused by mis-operation of calcium carbide, which is quite easy to catch fire”, and which was possibly located near to other dangerous goods tanks.

The source continued: “Some outside depots which are close to this warehouse are badly damaged or destroyed. Some of the big carriers have already advised of big losses and destruction of their containers, both empties and ladens, in those depots.

“But a specific figure is yet to be confirmed,” he said, adding that Tianjin has now halted all DG exports out of the port.

The blasts were equal to the energy of at least 24 tonnes of TNT explosives and measured as high as 2.9 on the Richter scale, according to the China Earthquakes Network Center.

Apocalyptic scenes of the blasts have dominated social media today. One series of dramatic photos showed a car park with 1,000 brand new Renault cars now charred and destroyed.

Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the explosions originated at a warehouse owned by Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics.

Rui Hai was founded in 2011 and operates a storage and distribution centre for containers of dangerous goods. Its freight volumes stand at 1m tonnes each year, with annual revenues exceeding $4.6m.

Xinhua said Rui Hai’s executives have been detained by police. The company is yet to issue a statement.

Meanwhile, Maersk Line said the explosion occurred 5km from APM Terminals’ joint-venture Tianjin Port Alliance International (TACT) facility, and that port operations partly resumed this morning.

“Due to the ongoing salvage operations, we are still not able to ascertain the exact extent to which the explosion has caused damage to Maersk Line containers and the content of these containers.

“There were no Maersk Line vessels alongside terminals or in the anchorage when the explosions hit the Tianjin port area,” it said.

It confirmed that all Maersk employees in Tianjin were accounted for, while four sustained minor injuries.

Search and rescue operations in Tianjin are continuing with 1,000 firefighters said to be now on the scene. Twenty-one people are currently missing.

Tianjin, located 130km south-east of Chinese capital Beijing, is the 10th busiest port in the world by container throughput, recording volumes of 14m teu in 2014.

Thailand’s intra-Asia specialist Regional Container Lines said its North China-India service calls at the Tianjin Alliance International Terminal, and told The Loadstar that the terminal “will resume operations soon, but it’s still not confirmed whether our vessel can berth the terminal or not. Anyway, the service’s normal berthing date is every Monday so there is some time until the picture is clearer”.

It added there is also “still a question mark whether the Tianjin Customs Emergency site can implement the customs declaration work or not”, a question that is likely to be answered by tomorrow.

 

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