Shipping Containers as Shelters

Shipping containers, as I wrote before, are fascinating things.  Deb Cowen’s superb new book has on its cover an amazing photograph of shipping containers tumbling atop two destroyed cranes in the aftermath of the devastating 2011 earthquake in Japan.

Shipping container act as symbols.  When they are empty or abandoned, they speak of declining or depressed economies, as they do in this photograph of “forlorn” shipping containers in Hong Kong.  And of course shipping containers are now regularly used in protests, both by protesters who use them as barricades and by the state who also uses them to barricade in the protesters.  Examples are these from Pakistan, Korea, and Misrata in Libya.

And of course there are the horrendous stories of death by containers in Afghanistan.

The brief story I want to tell though is told to me by that an amazing oldtimer who also told me the story of Karantina port-workers and the massacre at the port of Beirut during the civil war.

The story about shipping containers is this:

Merzario shipping Firm  was the first logistics firm to send container ships to Beirut.  Until then goods were unloaded from regular freighters by stevedores and dockers.  Merzario’s ships were then quite small, carrying something like 70 containers (not 14,000 or 18,000 like some of today’s mega-ships), and they were unloaded by stevedores that went on board and emptied the containers.

The story goes that Merzario lost something like 5000 shipping containers then (I haven’t been able to verify the number; but let’s say they lost HUNDREDS of containers).  What happened to the containers?  They were removed from the port area to neighbourhoods controlled Lebanese Forces.  The containers were stacked two high and end to end and they were used as a shelter from snipers.

In his amazing Hollow LandEyal Weizman writes about the Israeli technique of “walking through walls,” punching holes through Palestinian walls into adjoining houses, so that the tunnel thus created through the debris of people’s homes can be used for Israeli soldiers as a kind of sheltered passageway.

Well, the Lebanese Forces used the containers in the same way.  The only verification of this story I have found in my very cursory research thus far, is this Associated Press story reprinted in the Daily Telegraph dated 10 January 1987 which speaks about barricades built from “mounds of earth, fortified by rusting rail cars, blasted city buses and shipping containers” on “Maroun Maroun [sic. Is this possibly Mar Maroun] street in the Christian neighbourhood of Ein Rummaneh.”

I wonder if containers were also used by the other side to protect themselves from the LF snipers…