Freight News, Sea

Huge Beirut port explosion brings back memories of Tianjin – further updated

[ August 5, 2020   //   ]

A massive double explosion in the port of Beirut on the afternoon of 4 August killed dozens of people and left many more injured.

The explosion was reported to have originated in an area of the port used for dangerous cargoes. The country’s President, Michel Aoun is reported as saying that the large, second blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse, and which apparently been unloaded from a ship impounded at the port in 2013.

The material had been aboard the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus, which put into Beirut port after suffering technical problems en route from Georgia to Mozambique. TAfter an inspection, the ship was arrested and abandoned by its owners and its cargo was stored in a port warehouse for safety reasons.

Ammonium nitrate is not in itself explosive but can be if contaminated or stored incorrectly.

The Lebanese government said that a number of port officials had been put under house arrest while an investigation into the explosion. The head of Beirut port and the head of the customs authority both were reported by local media as saying that they had written to the judiciary several times asking that the material be exported or sold on.

The Beirut explosion occurred a few days before the fifth anniversary of the huge blast in the Chinese port of Tianjin on 12 August 2015, which left 173 dead and injured hundreds of others. It bears some apparent similarities with the Beirut incident; a second, much larger explosion was triggered by an initial blast or fire. In Tianjin the initial fire was thought to have been caused by an overheated container of nitrocellulose at a hazardous goods warehouse owned by Ruihai Logistics.  

In a statement, insurers the TT Club said that while it was too early to speculate on the precise cause of the disaster, “from initial reports however it seems that the inappropriate handling of explosive materials and/or the storage of potentially unstable chemicals has been the catalyst. This is a stark warning to those in the industry involved in carrying, handling or storing such goods.”

NVOCC Globelink Fallow said that its partners in Beirut had suffered severe damage but all staff are safe. LCL services to Beirut have been suspended.