On Tuesday evening, a massive explosion shook the Lebanese capital of Beirut, killed at least 137 people and thousands injured. Although the actual cause is uncertain, the tragedy draws attention to the huge consequences of lack of port security.
The explosion was related to the confiscation of large supplies and potentially unsafe explosives stuff, which were stored in the warehouse near the city’s ports, densely populated areas. As world leaders and international organizations step in to provide assistance, local officials are also investigating the reason behind the explosion.
As Lebanon continues to investigate the devastating explosion in Beirut, officials pointed out a possible reason: despite the warnings given by local officials, the authorities stated that a large amount of shipment of horticulture fertilizer had been stored in Beirut port for many years without taking safety precautions.
The most advanced statements reviewed by the source shows that 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate arrived in Beirut by a Russian-owned ship in 2013. The ship, named MV Rhosus, was originally destined to Mozambique, but due to financial difficulties, stopped in Beirut also caused disturbances in the ship’s Russian and Ukrainian crews.
Lebanese Customs Director Badri Daher said that once it arrived, the ship never left the port of Beirut although he and others had repeatedly warned that the cargo was commensurate to a floating bomb.
In 2016, Daher’s predecessor, Chafic Merhi, had written a letter to the judge involved in this case that due to the excessive dangers posed by such storage items under inappropriate climatic conditions, we once again request the port authorities to export goods immediately to maintain the safety of ports and port workers.
Lebanese governments have not marked MV Rhosus as the source of the substances that eventually exploded in Beirut on Tuesday, but Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that the devastating explosion was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. He further stated that this substance was stored in port warehouses for six years without any safety measures, threatening the safety of residents.
The chief of the general security of Lebanon also asserted that a massive explosive material was confiscated a few years ago and stored in a warehouse that is only a few minutes’ walks from the shopping and nightlife areas of Beirut. A massive explosion on Tuesday shook the capital, killing more than 130 people and injuring 5,000.
On Wednesday, Manal Abdel Samad Najd, Lebanese Information Minister stated that there are some documents and papers dating back to 2014 that prove the existence of data about the stuff confiscated by the Lebanese authorities. She told Al Mamlaka, Jordan’s state-owned channel, that she was considering an exchange with the potential cause of the deadly explosion in Beirut.
There is no preliminary results or clarification, she said in a telephone interview when asked if there were any initial findings related to the cause of the explosion during the investigation.
The ship was a Floating Bomb
According to the ship’s route and the captain Boris Prokoshev, in 2013, MV Rhosus departed from Batumi, Georgia, to Mozambique. It contained 2,750 metric tonnes of an industrial chemical commonly used as fertilizer worldwide (known as ammonium nitrate) and in mining explosives.
The flagged ship Moldovan stopped for refueling in Greece. At that time, the shipowner told the Ukrainian and Russian sailors that he had no money and they would have to pick up supplementary cargo to pay for the voyage expenses, which led them to roundabout route to Beirut.
The ship occupied by a company called Teto Shipping, whose crew members claimed that the ship was actually owned by Igor Grechushkin, a businessman in Khabarovsk who lives in Cyprus.
According to the Russian Seafarers’ Union, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) which representing Russian sailors told that once entering Beirut, MV Rhosus was detained by the local port authorities for offensive violating the ship’s operating laws, failing to pay port fees and complaints filed by Ukrainian and Russian crew members. It never resumed the journey.
According to Prokoshiv, the sailors stayed on the ship for 11 months with almost no supplies. On Wednesday, in an interview with Echo of Moscow, a 24/7 commercial Russian radio station, Prokoshev said: I wrote to Putin every day. In the end, we had to sell fuel and use the money to hire a lawyer. Because there was no help, the shipowner did not even provide us with water and food.
They will eventually abandon this ship. The union told that according to our knowledge, the Russian crew members were later repatriated to their hometown because the wages were not paid. It appended that at that time, there were especially hazardous goods such as ammonium nitrate on the dry cargo ship, and Beirut port authorities did not allow it to be unloaded or transferred to another ship.
Mikhail Voytenko, in 2014, run an online publication tracking marine activity, called this ship as a floating bomb.
In November 2014, the ammonium nitrate had been unloaded at the Beirut’s port and kept in a garage, according to emails exchanged between Prokoshev and Charbel Dagher, a Beirut lawyer representing the Lebanese crew.
Although the Lebanese Customs Director Badri Daher repeatedly warned that the cargo constituted “excessive exposure“, the cargo remained in the hangar for six years.
However, according to the public court documents which were obtained through the well-known Lebanese human rights activist Wadih Al-Asmar, shows that Daher and his predecessor Merhi have repeatedly appealed to the Beirut courts to confiscate dangerous goods since 2014.
In the memorandum, 19320/2014 escorted 5/12/2014 and 5/6/2015, we requested you to order the responsible port authority to re-export and unload of ammonium nitrate from the Rossus ship and place it on Customs Hangar No. 12 in the port of Beirut, Dach wrote in 2017.
Court documents revealed that he sometimes even offered to sell dangerous goods to the Lebanese army, but no avail. Daher authenticated that earlier on Wednesday, his agency had sent a total of six letters to the legitimate authorities, but the officials never reacted to any of their letters.
He said that the port authority should not allow ships to unload chemicals into ports. These chemicals originally went to Mozambique, not Lebanon.
On Wednesday, Hassan Koraytem, the director-general of Beirut Port, told local TV station OTV that we kept these materials in a warehouse no. 12 in Beirut Port according to court orders. We knew that they were hazardous substances, but not to that degree.
Koraytem also said that the issue of the removal of explosive stuff was raised by national security and customs, but unfortunately, the issue has not been resolved.
Koraytem further told the Customs and National Security Agency issued a letter to the authorities six years ago requesting the removal or re-export of explosive substances. Since then, we have been waiting for this issue to be resolved, but to no avail.
He added that the maintenance of the warehouse door was done just a few hours before the explosion on Tuesday. He further stated that the National Security Agency asked us to repair the warehouse door. We did this at noon, but I don’t know what happened in the afternoon.
In the past, ammonium nitrate was implicated in fatal industrial explosions, and as we all know, it needs to be handled carefully.
Insufficient storage of ammonium nitrate is very popular for exploding such as in Galveston Bay, Opal, Germany, Texas; recently in the west of Waco, Tianjin, and Texas in China, Inorganic Chemistry Professor Andrea Sella at University College London told the Science Media Center.
This is catastrophic governing negligence because usually, the storage regulations for ammonium nitrate are very clear. The idea that this amount could have been left unattended for six years is incredible. This is an accident waiting to happen.
In terms of scale, perhaps the closest comparison to the Beirut explosion is a bomb-blast in Texas in 1947 that was caused by 2,310 United States tonnes (approximately 2,095 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate. According to the Texas historical associations’ website, the resulting fire caused explosions and additional fires damaged more than 1,100 buildings and killed almost 450 people.
Associate Professor Stewart Walker from the School of Environmental, Forensic and Analytical Chemistry at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, told that previous disasters related to the chemical have led to revised regulations for its safe storage. Such commands mean that it is often far away from population centers.
He said in the investigation of the Beirut bombing incident, both cases will be questioned because they contained such a large amount of ammonium nitrate that may not be properly stored and especially in an area where large numbers of people were present.