Initial investigations into the Beirut port blast indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material caused the explosion that killed more than 150 people, injured thousands and left 300,000 homeless, an official source revealed
The prime minister and presidency have said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.
“It is negligence,” the official source said, adding that the issue on storing the material safely had come before several committees and judges and “nothing was done” to order the material be removed or disposed of,
Tuesday’s explosion was the most powerful ever suffered by Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a deep financial crisis rooted in decades of corruption and economic mismanagement.
The head of Beirut port and the head of customs both said on Wednesday that several letters were sent to the judiciary asking for the dangerous material be removed, but no action was taken. The requests were done in 2014,2015, 2016 and 2017 at least.
Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem told OTV the material had been put in a warehouse on a court order, adding that they knew then the material was dangerous but “not to this degree”.
“We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why,” Badri Daher, director general of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI.
Shiparrested.com, an industry network dealing with legal cases, said in a 2015 report that the Rhosus, sailing under a Moldovan flag, docked in Beirut in September 2013 when it had technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate.
It said that, upon inspection, the vessel was forbidden from sailing and shortly afterwards was abandoned by its owners, leading to various creditors coming forward with legal claims.
“Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port’s warehouses,” it added.