Containerlines are diverting calls from Beirut to other nearby ports as officials in Lebanon piece together how Tuesday’s deadly explosion occurred. More than 135 people are dead, many are still missing and more than 300,000 have been made homeless following the giant explosion that has erased most of Beirut port.
The accident is thought to have occurred when sparks from a welding machine ignited a warehouse containing fireworks. The fire quickly spread to another warehouse containing 2,750 tonnes of poorly stored ammonia nitrate – a substance used to make both fertiliser and bombs.
The ammonia nitrate from Georgia was originally bound for Mozambique on a decrepit, ageing general cargo ship, the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus, seven years ago.
When the ship, chartered by a Russian now living in Cyprus, Igor Grechushkin, ran into technical difficulties it stopped in Beirut where port state control officials promptly detained the vessel at which point the vessel and its crew were abandoned. Just over a month later the cargo was taken off the ship and stored in the port.
Despite repeated warnings from port officials in the intervening seven years to move the dangerous substance, the calls fell on deaf ears.
Yesterday, a number of officials from the port were arrested. President Michel Aoun said that port officials would face “the harshest punishment” if they are found to be responsible for the blast. House arrest will apply to all port officials “who have handled the affairs of storing [the] ammonium nitrate, guarding it and handling its paperwork”, according to Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad.
French liner CMA CGM reported two of its staff were seriously injured in the explosion, while one staff member remains missing. Many other employees were hurt as the company’s office was smashed hard by the explosion as was the office of German liner Hapag-Lloyd.
Port agent GAC stated that the explosion and the subsequent blast in Beirut destroyed almost everything in the port and the surrounding area up to a radius of 10 km. In magnitude, it was equal to an earthquake of 4.5 on the Richter scale, GAC stated.
Lebanon will now need urgent supplies of grain sent soon as much of the country’s reserves disappeared in the inferno.