Ship spotting at Beirut port

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Have you ever noticed all the military ships in the port of Beirut? Ever wonder who they belong to and what they are doing here? The local news doesn’t say much about them, but turns out you can find out a lot on your own.

A discussion about this was sparked by a Facebook post when my friend SOAS Professor Laleh Khalili uploaded an image of a British navy vessel she recently spotted anchored in Oman. (Laleh has been posting some really fascinating stuff during the course of her research on ports, power and transnational logistics– you should definitely follow her on FB or Twitter )

Laleh was able to learn the ship’s port of call and its sophisticated surveying capabilities by simply researching the number that appears on its bow. I suggested we do the same in Beirut. Here is a zoom in of the picture above:

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The ship on the right is clearly numbered 367–I did a quick Google search and turns out it belongs to the Indonesian Navy:

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You can read more about it on this ship spotting site.

I couldn’t make out the number of the bigger ship on the left. But a few days ago, I got a better view.

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It is clearly F45, which turns out to be from Brazil:

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You can read more about it here.

It was always my suspicion that these ships are part of the UNIFIL mission patrolling Lebanon’s seas after the 2006 war as part of the deal that helped end the conflict, UN resolution 1701.

However what is interesting is that these two ships don’t seem to be doing much patrolling. I have seen the two of them parked at the port for at least several months now. While the later photo is from a few days ago, the top photo in this post is from last December. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence because 367 and F45 have been in the same positions every time I drive by the port from December till today, no matter what day of week or time of day.

What was particularly interesting about Laleh’s post is that someone suggested the UK ship could be involved in a cover operation, perhaps intelligence gathering, perhaps in Yemen. But that is pure speculation. Is there an exciting story behind the ships docked here in Beirut? Or are they just “parking”?

Either way, ship spotting can be a fun activity for the whole family–naval enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists alike.