Port Officials Placed Under House Arrest Following Beirut Explosion
A number of port officials in Beirut have been placed under house arrest pending an investigation into the huge blast that killed at least 135 people.
The explosion occurred on Tuesday, August 4, in a warehouse in the port of Beirut where 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored. The chemical can be used as a source of nitrogen for agricultural fertiliser, and combined with fuel oils to make an explosive.
Lebanon President Michel Aoun said the ammonium nitrate had been stored unsafely in the warehouse, where it had remained for six years after being unloaded from a ship that was impounded in 2013.
The head of the port of Beirut and the head of the customs authority, Badri Daher, both claimed they had written to the judiciary several times asking that the chemical be exported or sold on, but Daher said ‘this did not happen’.
He added: ‘We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why.’
Following the blast, all port officials ‘who have handled the affairs of storing [the] ammonium nitrate, guarding it and handling its paperwork’ since June 2014 are subject to house arrest, Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said.
Speaking to the BBC about the incident, Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said:
I think it is incompetence and really bad management and there are a lot of responsibilities from management and probably previous governments. We do not intend after such an explosion to stay silent on who is responsible for what.
Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council stated those found responsible will face the ‘maximum punishment’ possible.
After visiting the ruined port on Wednesday, President Aoun commented:
We are determined to go ahead with an investigation and unveil the circumstances surrounding what happened as soon as possible and hold those responsible and those who were negligent accountable and serve them the most severe punishment.
Rescue workers have spent the past two days digging through the rubble looking for survivors of the blast, which caused extensive damage to the port and surrounding areas. At least 135 people are known to have been killed, and more than 5,000 people have been injured.
Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said as many as 300,000 people have been made temporarily homeless and that the collective losses might reach $10-15bn (£8-11bn), the BBC reports.
Specialists at the UK’s University of Sheffield estimate the blast was ‘unquestionably one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history’.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by the tragic events.