On April 4, the capital city of Lebanon, Beirut was wrecked by a huge explosion caused at a warehouse of Beirut port. Reportedly, this explosion was caused by 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate being present at the port and the blast appeared to be triggered by a fire. This is the most powerful and deadly explosion that the Lebanese capital had ever seen.
The city of Beirut has endured the 1975- 1990 long civil war, conflicts with its neighbouring nation Israel and terror attacks and periodic bombings. An officer of the Lebanese Red Cross Society informed that at least 100 people have lost their lives in this incident and more than 4000 civilians were wounded in the massive blast.
The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hassan Diab, has stated at a meeting of the defence counsel, “It is unacceptable that a shipment of 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate has been present for six years in a warehouse”. He also added that it was unacceptable and they could not remain silent on the issue.
So what was the issue of the 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate? Reportedly, the ship carrying the ferry, arrived at the port of Beirut in 2013 while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique. Over an unspecified reason, it was prevented from leaving the Beirut port in 2014 and the dispute was caused probably because the shipowner failed to pay the required fees at the port or the ship was deemed to be unworthy of the seas.
According to former crew members, the ship was owned by Igor Grechushkin who was a Russian national who reportedly managed the Teto Shipping which owned the Rhosus. After the ship at Beirut port, was not allowed to leave, the owner of the ship practically walked away from it and abandoned it at the port. He also refused the calls of the port authorities to negotiate the release of his sailors. The sailors complained to the press of being ‘abandoned’ at Beirut and not having received their wages for over a year.
After several debates and disputes, the crew, majority of which was composed by Ukrainian nationals, was held on board the ship for an entire year before they were released and the ammonium nitrate was confiscated by the port authorities and kept at the warehouse.
The ammonium nitrate fertilizer was considered to be a “floating bomb” by the captain of the concerned ship.
Devastating visuals of the blast is making rounds on social media and as per news reports, the major downtown streets were littered with debris from the blast and damaged vehicles. Building facades were blown away and people have crowded the hospitals all night to receive news of their loved ones, those who were wounded or had gone missing. Several civilians posted for help online.
The government of Lebanon was already on the verge of collapse with the severe economic crisis that has triggered mass protests in recent times. The hospitals of Lebanon are facing a surge of coronavirus infected cases and the current concern is that the virus can spread to a larger number of people due to the crowd at hospitals.