Risky Business: France’s CMA CGM Working With Hezbollah-Affiliated Port While Maintaining U.S. Operations

(New York, N.Y.) – When 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the Port of Beirut in August 2020, killing more than 215 people and injuring thousands more, questions arose about who controlled that material and where it originated. It is implausible that Hezbollah, which the Hoover Institution says controls the Lebanese government ministry with oversight over the country’s ports, was unaware of the deadly stockpile – yet it did nothing to protect innocent lives. Indeed, the material had sat in a warehouse for more than six years.

In September 2020, the U.S. State Department revealed that Hezbollah had caches of ammonium nitrate throughout Europe for use in Iran-directed terror attacks. The material was reportedly transferred via Belgium to France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and Greece.

So it is alarming that France’s biggest shipping firm CMA CGM has sought and won a contract in February to redevelop the Port of Beirut’s container terminal, widely understood to be under considerable if not decisive control by Hezbollah, and to rebuild the area damaged by the blast. 

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) recently wrote to company officials outlining its concerns regarding their work in Beirut. UANI requested that CMA CGM, which confirmed to UANI first in 2016 and again in 2018 that it would “wind down and ultimately cease all activities” involving Iran, explain its changed position and clarify how it would avoid entanglement with Hezbollah. CMA CGM euphemistically responded that it was “sensitive to the unique challenges presented by operations in Lebanon” and further disclosed that the 2020 explosion had killed one and severely injured two of their own employees. 

“Given Hezbollah’s widely recognized dominance over Beirut’s port, CMA CGM’s investment is particularly puzzling given their previous communications in which they confirmed that they would no longer do business with Iran. Working alongside Iran’s chief terrorist proxy is no better than doing business with Iran directly. In fact, it deepens the value of Iran’s investments in Hezbollah,” said UANI Research Director Daniel Roth.

The contract with the Hezbollah-affiliated port exposes CMA CGM to significant risk of sanctions violations in the U.S. and Europe and imperils its significant presence in the west. The company is the world’s third-biggest container carrier. In the U.S., it has multiple offices and subsidiary firms in eight states.

Roth concluded, “Conducting business in the Port of Beirut is an ill-advised and irresponsible decision. In carrying out their contract, the company is putting their vast U.S. interests and their reputation at risk—not to mention the lives of their personnel and contractors in the region, as CMA CGM already knows well from past tragic experience at the port. As one of the world’s leading shippers, CMA CGM should reevaluate its decision to associate with a notorious terrorist group, and by extension with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”