The people of Lebanon are calling for “revolution” as it becomes clearer that authorities ignored repeated warnings by the country’s customs officials that the Russian ship carrying 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port was a “floating bomb.”
The explosion two days ago virtually destroyed the downtown business district of the city and killed 145 with thousands of people unaccounted for.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon on Thursday and got an earful from people who followed him.
Macron, wearing a black tie in mourning and flanked by security guards, promised to send more medical and other aid to Lebanon, while those around him chanted “Revolution” and “The people want the fall of the regime.”
“But what is also needed here is political change. This explosion should be the start of a new era,” Macron said, making the tour shortly after arriving on the first visit to Lebanon by a foreign leader since the blast.
As details of the blast start to leak out, the monumental incompetence and stupidity of the government in allowing this disaster to happen become apparent.
Daher repeatedly asked officials to remove the ammonium nitrate from the port because it posed a significant danger of exploding, he said during an interview with LBC TV late Wednesday.
Daher said flagging the risks to authorities was “extra work” for him and his predecessors outside of his responsibility to prevent smuggling and collecting duties.
He says it was the port authority’s job to monitor the material and store it appropriately.
The Russian ship was held at the port after reporting “technical problems” and inspectors barred it from sailing onwards.
The deadly cargo was then unloaded and stored in warehouses. The ships eventually ran out of supplies and the sailors were repatriated back to Russia.
But no one apparently thought to do anything about a couple of tons of lethal explosives sitting forgotten in warehouses.
It was customs officials who warned the government about the ammonium nitrate, so, naturally, the government had them arrested.
Lebanon President Michel Aoun vowed before a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the investigation would be transparent and that those responsible will be punished.
The cabinet ordered an unspecified number of Beirut port officials put under house arrest pending an investigation into how ammonium nitrate came to be stored at the port for years. The government also declared a two-week state of emergency, effectively giving the military full powers during this time.
Meanwhile, the owner of the ship hasn’t said a word since the blast. He has been identified by the captain of the vessel as Igor Grechushkin, a wealthy Russian businessman living in Cyprus. He saw the opportunity to make a quick buck and bought a decrepit ship to make a run from the Republic of Georgia to Mozambique. The ship probably shouldn’t have left Georgia. It was forced to stop in Lebanon and when Grechushkin realized repairing the ship would be costlier than simply abandoning it, he stopped funding the trip.
In Beirut, inspectors found the ship to be unseaworthy and barred it from sailing further. Some of the crew members were released, but Prokoshev said that he and three others were stuck there for 11 months.
“We weren’t paid a dime!” he said, according to a translation of the interview, adding that Grechushkin “didn’t even buy food for us.”
“We can say that he left us in a knowingly dangerous situation, doomed us to hunger,” he said.
I would bet that governments in all the seafaring countries in the world are looking at their ports to see what’s being warehoused.
This isn’t the first accidental explosion that decimated a port. In 2015, the Chinese port of Tianjin was rocked by two massive explosions, killing at least 173 and injuring hundreds more. The cause there was poorly stored volatile chemicals that ignited during a fire at the warehouse.
The government of Lebanon, already dealing with an economic and political crisis of unprecedented severity, could easily become a failed state, run by the Hezbollah terrorists and backstopped by Iran. That would be a problem for next-door-neighbor Israel and the world at large.