Saturday, August 8, 2020

What Beirut Explosion Teach us? Isn’t there a ‘Warehouse 12’ in every country?

Copyright, Christina Drakaki, via

'MV Rhosus' - Russian owned and carrying Moldovan flag - left from Batumi, Georgia (the country, not the state of US). The destination was Beira in Mozambique. On the way, captain got an order to take additional cargo – destined for Jordan - from Beirut (there are different versions on why ship stopped in Beirut). Captain Prokoshev redirected the ship to Beirut port. As per captain, even then, the ship was leaking but it was seaworthy. At the port, crew was not able to board the heavy equipment (additional cargo) and the owner failed to pay the port fees. Another version says that MV Rhosus was forced to dock at Beirut port due to technical difficulties. This happened in September 2013. As per lawyers, authorities inspected the ship declared that it is forbidden from sailing.

In short, they captured 27-year-old MV Rhosus along with its cargo. What was the cargo?  2,750 bags of Ammonium Nitrate. Ship sent her last message indicating her position on Aug 7, 2014. Lebanese authorities released her crew also on that month. By this time, ships charterers and company which owns the cargo lost interest in the ship. Maybe they do not want to spend more money on that. Owners also abandoned the ship. Her dangerous cargo was moved to 'Warehouse 12' and ship was also abandoned by port authorities right in the pier. She stayed there for three years. ‘MV Rhosus’ started leaking heavily and started sinking on Feb 2018. Looks like port authorities did not care much on this submerged ship since she was not blocking the path.

Ammonium Nitrate

This chemical is commonly used for manufacturing fertilizers. This is also a dual use substance, as it can also be mixed with fuel to make explosives. If not handled with care this can explore and cause huge destruction. On Aug 12, 2015 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in a contained storage station at Port of Tianjin, China killing This resulted in other explosions and killed 173 out of which 104 were fire fighters. Before that, similar explosions happened in Australia, US, Mexico, North Korea, Romania, Spain, France etc.

What Authorities Did?

As per customs they sent six letters to judiciary asking for the solution of the cargo on June 27, December 5, 2014; May 6, 2015; May 20, October 13, 2016; and October 27, 2017.

Was just sending letters to the judiciary was enough? That also just 6 letters in 7 years. They seem to send the letter to Judge – Urgent matters. What happened to those letters? Was it followed up with political administration? Why judiciary did not respond (as per customs) to those letters?


On Aug 4 a fire, probably started from another warehouse entered warehouse 12 and ignited ammonium nitrate which resulted in a huge blast, the sound of which was heard more than 200 km away. This blast and destruction are crushing for a country that ran to the ground by her administrators. Lebanon was not always like this. She has a long history all the way to bronze ages. Modern Lebanon was under the Ottoman empire. After the victory in the first world was French got Greater Lebanon. Her current boundaries are defined by the ‘Treaty of Sevres – 1920’.

After 23 years of French rule, Lebanon got her independence in the middle of World War II in 1943. Her capital Beirut became the regional center for trade and became a financial hub. 15 year-long civil war changed everything. It crushed the country; Taif agreement brought peace but it was always a delicate balance. Even now protests are going on in Lebanon; this one started last October. It will take more than an article to explain the problems faced by Lebanon. Let us investigate what we can learn from the blasts.

Governments across the globe need to learn a lot from this blast.

1. Create a safe protocol to handle explosives and follow it in letter and spirit. In a lot of countries, there are protocols for everything; but hardly anyone follows that.

2. Be extra careful with nerve agents, biological warfare labs, nuclear development and testing etc. All these facilities should be far away from human population centers; in an area where it is easy to contain the worst-case scenarios.

3. Items of dual-use - like ammonium nitrate which can be used to make fertilizers as well bombs - if captured from smugglers or otherwise should be disposed of immediately. There should be huge personal fines on people who fail to do so.

4. All such accidents should be investigated transparently, and reports should be made public.

5. If any authority keeps such unsafe/fragile/dangerous items in population centers then it should be moved to safe isolated places or disposed of.

6. Since the location of explosives and such warehouses hardly ever made public, common people are not aware of this. Authorities are doubly responsible in these cases.

7. One should not wait till next accident to make another change.

Beirut Port was nicknamed as ‘Cave of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves’ for its alleged role as the center of corruption. The accusation is Lebanon lost billions of dollars in tax revenue due to undervaluing imports, systematic and widespread bribery to avoid paying customs tax at this port. 

A lot of countries have institutions accused of such things. Always remember, stealing is one thing which may be forgiven but losing life due to neglect in the labyrinth of the bureaucratic system is beyond redemption.



1. Ship citied in Beirut blast hasn't sailed in 7 years. We Found It - NYT

2. 2019–2020 Lebanese protests - Wikipedia

3. Taif Agreement - Wikipedia

4. A big blast should lead to big change in Lebanon - TheEconomist

5. Beirut blast: Tracing the explosives that tore thecapital apart - AlJazeera

No comments:

Post a Comment