Lebanese officials investigating Tuesday’s blast in Beirut have pointed to a possible cause: A massive shipment of agricultural fertilizer that authorities say was stored in the port of Beirut without safety precautions for years, despite warnings by local officials.
The shipment contained ammonium nitrate (AN), a highly volatile compound used in fertilizers – and in explosives for mining.
How did the AN end up in Beirut port? In 2013, the MV Rhosus set off from Batumi, Georgia, destined for Mozambique. It was carrying 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate.
The Moldovan-flagged ship stopped in Greece to refuel. That’s when the ship’s owner told the Russian and Ukrainian sailors that he had run out of money and they would have to pick up additional cargo to cover the travel costs – which led them on a detour to Beirut.
Once in Beirut, the ship was detained by local port authorities due to “gross violations in operating a vessel,” unpaid fees to the port, and complaints filed by the Russian and Ukrainian crew.
It never resumed its journey. The sailors eventually abandoned the ship, and the Russian crew was brought back home.
“At the time, on board of the dry cargo ship there were particularly dangerous goods – ammonium nitrate, which the port authorities of Beirut did not allow to unload or transfer to another ship,” said the Seafarers’ Union of Russia, which represented the Russian sailors.
The AN was unloaded in Beirut’s port by November 2014 and stored in a hangar, where it was kept for six years, despite repeated warnings from the Director of Lebanese Customs of the “extreme danger” that it posed.
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