As the dust from the Beirut explosion settles and rescuers continue to search for both survivors and bodies, blames are now pointing at possible negligence.
Investigations are yet to make an official conclusion to the root cause of the Beirut explosion, but links to the confiscated ammonium nitrate are strongly hinted. The New York Times describes the tragedy as the “bleak tale of chronic negligence.”
As of this writing, reports show that at least 135 people are now recorded dead, and the number of injured residents are piling up to more than 5,000. Anger now boils toward the officials who knew about the risks of the confiscated dangerous material, which was sitting at a warehouse of the Beirut port for six years now.
Officials accused of negligence
After the devastating twin explosions that tore Central Beirut, information came to light that an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate have been sitting at the site of the blasts since 2014.
Bangkok Post notes that the power of the confiscated materials was “equivalent to at least 1,200 tonnes of TNT.” The intensity of this was felt even more than 150 miles away, all the way to Cyprus.
News updates unveil that there might be clear negligence from the officials as to how such dangerous material was stored. Reports entail that there have been requests to relocate the cache of ammonium nitrate, but, clearly, it was to no avail.
The New York Times notes that the Lebanese officials failed to act on securing the ammonium nitrate outside of the port, despite having knowledge of it.
Accordingly, customs officials have since been writing to court for the disposal of the said material, with letters dating from 2014 to 2017. Records reportedly show that the judiciary arm of the Lebanese government failed to respond to the said letters wherein solutions were suggested by the concerning officials.
بإنتظار نتيجة التحقيق لمعرفة الحقيقة الكاملة ولتحديد المسؤولية، يمكننا من خلال الإطلاع على هذين الكتابين الموجهين إلى قاضي الأمور المستعجلة، معرفة جزء مهم من الحقيقة.
الأول بتاريخ ٢٠ أيار ٢٠١٦ من قبل المدير شفيق مرعي، والثاني بتاريخ ٢٨ كانون الأول ٢٠١٧ من قبل المدير بدري ضاهر. pic.twitter.com/qhEUCLMYqN
— Salim Aoun (@SalimAoun) August 5, 2020
A few of these solutions were to use the ammonium nitrate as fertilizers or to be donated to the Lebanese Army. The media outlet quotes Hassan Koraytem, the general manager of the Beirut port, saying:
“We were told the cargo would be sold in an auction. But the auction never happened and the judiciary never acted.”
Where did the ammonium nitrate come from?
2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were confiscated from a Russian-leased cargo ship back in 2013. In The New York Times‘ separate report, the combustible material was said to have been purchased by the International Bank of Mozambique for Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique—a firm which makes “commercial explosives.”
The material was originally routed for a transfer to the port of Beira in Mozambique but did not have enough money to pay for the ship’s passage to the Suez Canal. Igor Grechushkin, the lessee of the ship at the time, had the ship detoured in Beirut to pick up heavy machinery for additional cargo.
The Lebanese officials allegedly impounded the ship due to failure to pay “port docking fees and other charges.” The crew was held in custody until such payment was given.
The officials were reportedly warned about how dangerous the materials were, but it was as if they had no concern over the cargo and just wanted the money, Mr. Boris Prokoshev, the captain of the ship at the time, recalled.
The crew was eventually released in August 2014 on compassionate grounds and due to Grechushkin’s payment, which left the Lebanese officials in-charge of the dangerous goods. The ammonium nitrate was moved to a storage warehouse known as Hangar 12 and was left there until it exploded on Tuesday.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons