Lebanon’s prime minister Hassan Diab announced his government’s resignation, saying a huge explosion that tore through Beirut killing at least 163 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed swathes of the Mediterranean capital was the result of endemic corruption.
However, Reuters reported that Lebanese security officials warned Diab and Lebanon President Michel Aoun last month that the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded, according to documents seen by Reuters and senior security sources.
— 🇱🇧ミ☆ (@HalseyisAshley) August 10, 2020
Just over two weeks later, the industrial chemicals that were taken to the port in late 2013 exploded in a massive blast that obliterated most of the port and destroyed some 6,000 buildings.
The blast triggered days of public fury and further criticism that the blast is the latest, most dramatic, example of government negligence and corruption that has already pushed Lebanon to economic collapse.
Even though Diab’s government resigned, it will remain as a caretaker administration until a new cabinet is formed.
The rebuilding of Beirut alone is expected to cost up to US$15 billion. Lebanon is effectively bankrupt with total banking system losses exceeding US$100 billion.
Aoun last week said he had directed Lebanon’s secretary general of the supreme defence council, an umbrella group of Lebanon’s security and military agencies chaired by the president, to “do what is necessary”.
“(The state security service) said it is dangerous. I am not responsible! I don’t know where it was put and I didn’t know how dangerous it was. I have no authority to deal with the port directly. There is a hierarchy and all those who knew should have known their duties to do the necessary,” Aoun said.
— 27 World News (@27WorldNews) August 11, 2020
HISTORY OF THE DEADLY CHEMICAL
- The Rhosus, a Russian-chartered, Moldovan-flagged vessel carrying ammonium nitrate from Georgia to Mozambique, docked in Beirut, Lebanon, to try to take on extra cargo to raise the fees for passage through the Suez Canal, according to the ship’s captain.
- Port authorities impounded the Rhosus on December 2013 by judicial order 2013/1031 due to outstanding debts owed to two companies that filed claims in Beirut courts, a state security report showed.
- In May 2014, the ship was deemed unseaworthy and its cargo was unloaded in October 2014 and warehoused in what was known as Hangar 12. The ship sank near the port’s breakwater on February 18, 2018.
- In February 2015, Nadim Zwain, a judge from the Summary Affairs Court, appointed an expert to inspect the cargo. The expert concluded that the material was hazardous and, through the port authorities, requested it be transferred to the army.
- Lebanese army command rejected the request and recommended the chemicals be transferred or sold to the privately-owned Lebanese Explosives Company. The explosive company’s management told Reuters it had not been interested in purchasing confiscated material and that the firm had its own suppliers and government import licences.
- Then customs and security officials wrote to judges about every six months asking for the removal of the material.
- In January 2020, a judge launched an official investigation after it was discovered that Hangar 12 was unguarded, had a hole in its southern wall and one of its doors dislodged, meaning the hazardous material was at risk of being stolen.
- In his final report, Prosecutor General Oweidat “gave orders immediately” to ensure hangar doors and holes were repaired and security provided.
- On June 4, based on those orders, state security instructed port authorities to provide guards at Hangar 12, appoint a director for the warehouse and secure all the doors and repair the hole in the southern wall.
The death of 3-year-old Alexandra Najjar has prompted an outpouring of tributes online, reflecting the grief and fury of Lebanese worldwide over the Aug. 4 Beirut Explosions #Beirut #بيروت pic.twitter.com/jZHbEWlLie
— 🐥 (@Razana94_) August 10, 2020
- “The maintenance started and (port authorities) sent a team of Syrian workers (but) there was no one supervising them when they entered to fix the holes,” a security official told Reuters.
- During the work, sparks from the welding took hold and fire started to spread.
- Fireworks were stored in the same hangar and a large fire was set off by the fireworks that spread to the ammonium nitrate which exploded when the temperature exceeded 210 degrees.
It is important that a credible and transparent investigation determine the cause of the explosion in #Beirut and bring about the accountability demanded by the Lebanese people. Their voices must be heard.https://t.co/sLjnfdCt7B
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 10, 2020