Public anger rises after Beirut blast as officials knew of the risks

While authorities continue searching for the cause of the Beirut explosion, all fingers are being pointed out to the chemical – Ammonia nitrate.

The question however, is to ask how did it got there in the first place, and why was it kept at a location that eventually caused the lives of nearly 400 people and homes of at least 300,000 more.

An unscheduled stop, a massive shipment of agricultural fertilizer, a bankrupt Russian business man and the ignoring of safety precautions for years are just part of the many factors that played to the catastrophic incident.

The MV Rhosus vessel

According to CNN, a shipment of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate arrived in Beirut in 2013 on a Russian owned vessel by the name of MV Rhosus. Due to financial difficulties, the vessel that was en-route to Mozambique, made an unprecedented stop at Beirut and never left. 

The substance was ultimately left untouched and unregulated for up to SIX years.

Owned by Russian businessman Igor Grechuskin, his crew was mostly Russians and Moldovans and it is still not immediately clear to why Grechuskin, who owned Teto Shipping was carrying such an alarming amount of ammonium nitrate.

Highlighting a bust up with the law, Grechuskin had allegedly not paid his crew, including the captain and had abandoned them for months, leaving them stuck on the vessel, according to the lawyers who fought for their release.

They said that the ship was a “floating bomb” and the crew became hostages on the “bomb”.

Neither Grechusin nor any members of his family have given any public comment about their alleged connection with the Beirut blast.

Warnings were sent out over the years of the dangers that the port of Beirut could face with such a cargo in its area, which include inspectors warning that the now seized material could “blow up all of Beirut”.

According to the current Director of Customs, Badri Daher, warnings of the cargo being equivalent to a floating bomb didn’t manage to change the situation.

“We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why,” Daher said.

 “Due to the extreme danger posed by this stored items in unsuitable climate conditions, we reiterate our request to the Port Authorities to re-export the goods immediately to maintain the safety of the port and those working in it,” Chafic Merhi, former director general of the Lebanese Customs Administration wrote in a 2016 letter to a judge involved in the case.

On top of that, Lebanon’s general security chief also said that a “highly explosive material” was confiscated years earlier and kept in a warehouse not too far from Beirut’s shopping malls and nightlife spots. 

As there were disasters linked to the chemical in the past, strict and improved regulations have been put in place for its safe storage. Associate Professor Stewart Walker from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia said in an interview with CCN that “such rules mean it tend to be kept away from population centers.

“Both of these things will be questioned in the investigation into the Beirut explosion, because they had such a large amount of ammonium nitrate, which may not have been stored appropriately, and in an area where there is a large number of people,” he added.

According to Andrea Sella, a professor at University College London, poorly stored ammonium nitrate is notorious for explosions — for example in Oppau, Germany; in Galveston Bay, Texas; and more recently at West in Waco, Texas; and Tianjin in China.