On 4 August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, accidentally exploded, causing at least 180 deaths, 6,000 injuries, US$10–15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. Around 2,750 tonnes of the substance (equivalent to around 1.1 kilotons of TNT) had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures for the previous six years, after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the abandoned ship MV Rhosus. The blast occurred when fireworks stored in the same building caught fire and detonated the ammonium nitrate.
The Lebanese government declared a two-week state of emergency in response to the disaster. In its aftermath, protests erupted across Lebanon against the government for their failure to prevent the disaster, joining a larger series of protests which have been taking place in the country since 2019. On 10 August 2020, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and the Lebanese cabinet resigned due to mounting political pressure exacerbated by the event.
The explosion occurred behind the grain silos in this view.
The economy of Lebanon was in a state of crisis prior to the explosions, with the government having defaulted on debt, the pound plunging, and a poverty rate that had risen past fifty percent. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic had overwhelmed many of the country's hospitals, several of which already were short of medical supplies and unable to pay staff due to a financial crisis. The morning before the explosion, the head of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, which served as the main coronavirus medical facility in Lebanon, warned that it was approaching full capacity.
The government-owned Port of Beirut serves as the main maritime entry point into Lebanon and a vital piece of infrastructure for the importation of scarce goods. The port included 4basins, 16 quays, 12 warehouses, a large container terminal, and grain silos that served as a strategic reserve of wheat for the country. The Beirut Naval Base is a part of the port.
On 27 September 2013, the Moldovan-flagged cargo ship MV Rhosus set sail from Batumi, Georgia, to Beira, Mozambique, carrying 2,750 tonnes (3,030 short tons) of ammonium nitrate.Rhosus was owned by a company based in Panama but was regarded by the captain as under the de facto ownership of Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin. The shipment had been ordered by an African explosives manufacturing company for mining in Mozambique. On 21 November 2013, the ship made port in Beirut. Some sources said it was forced to port due to mechanical issues and possibly engine problems, while other sources claimed the owner did not have sufficient funds to pay tolls for the Suez Canal and attempted to take on a shipment of heavy machinery in Beirut. The heavy machinery was stacked on top of the doors to the cargo space containing the ammonium nitrate, causing the doors to buckle, which damaged the ship. After inspection by port state control, the Rhosus was deemed unseaworthy, and was forbidden to set sail. Eight Ukrainians and one or two Russians were aboard, and with the help of the Ukrainian consul, five Ukrainians were repatriated,[when?] leaving four crew members to care for the ship.
The port of Beirut in 2017, with Rhosus moored on the right. Abandoned livestock carriersAbou KarimI and Abou KarimIII, both severely damaged in the explosions, are in the center, the latter largely obscuring the former.
The Port of Beirut eleven days after the disaster
Grechushkin went bankrupt,[a] and after the charterers lost interest in the cargo, he abandoned the ship. The Rhosus soon ran out of provisions, and the remaining crew were unable to disembark due to immigration restrictions. Creditors also obtained three arrest warrants against the ship. According to Lloyd's List, the Beirut port authority seized the ship on 4February 2014, due to US$100,000 in unpaid bills. The ship had accrued port fees and been fined for refusing cargo. Lawyers argued for the crew's repatriation on compassionate grounds, because of the danger posed by the cargo still aboard the ship, and an Urgent Matters judge in Beirut allowed them to return home. They had been forced to live aboard the ship for about a year.
By order of the judge, the cargo was brought ashore in 2014 and placed in Warehouse 12 at the port, where it remained for the next six years. The MV Rhosus sank in the harbour in February 2018.
Customs officials had sent letters to judges requesting a resolution to the issue of the confiscated cargo, proposing that the ammonium nitrate be either exported, given to the army, or sold to the private Lebanese Explosives Company.[b] Letters had been sent on 27 June and 5 December 2014, 6 May 2015, 20 May and 13 October 2016, and 27 October 2017. One of the letters sent in 2016 noted that judges had not replied to previous requests, and "pleaded":
In view of the serious danger of keeping these goods in the hangar in unsuitable climatic conditions, we reaffirm our request to please request the marine agency to re-export these goods immediately to preserve the safety of the port and those working in it, or to look into agreeing to sell this amount...
On the afternoon of 4 August 2020, a fire broke out in Warehouse 12, waterside at the Port of Beirut. Warehouse 12 was next to the grain silos; the warehouse stored the ammonium nitrate that had been confiscated from MV Rhosus, alongside a "stash" of fireworks. Around 17:55 local time (14:55 UTC), a team of nine firefighters and one paramedic was dispatched to fight the fire. On arrival the fire crew reported there was "something wrong" as the fire was huge and produced "a crazy sound..."
The first explosion, at about 18:07 local time (15:07 UTC), sent up a cloud of smoke followed by flashes of light from the stored fireworks; the second, 33 to 35 seconds later, was much more substantial. It rocked central Beirut and sent a red-orange cloud into the air, which was briefly surrounded by a white condensation cloud. The orange-red colour of the smoke was caused by nitrogen dioxide, a byproduct of ammonium nitrate decomposition. The second explosion was felt in northern Israel and in Cyprus, 240 kilometers (150 miles) away.
The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International said that, according to attendees of a Higher Defence Council briefing, the fire was ignited by workers welding a door at a warehouse. A former port worker said, "There were 30 to 40 nylon bags of fireworks inside warehouse 12..." An American diplomatic cable on 7 August said it "remains unclear ... whether fireworks, ammunition or something else stored next to the ammonium nitrate might have been involved" in worsening the warehouse fire and igniting the ammonium nitrate. A port worker said Warehouse 12 was used for long-term storage, and that "those in charge only used to open the warehouse to stack inside it materials confiscated upon judicial orders or perilous products," though he had not seen this to include any armaments.
Following the explosions, 180 people were confirmed dead with an additional 30 missing, and more than 6,000 people were injured. Hundreds of foreigners from at least 22 countries were among the casualties.[g]
The explosion overturned cars and stripped steel-framed buildings of their cladding. Within the port area, the explosion destroyed a section of shoreline and left a crater roughly 124 m (407 ft) in diameter and 43 m (141 ft) in depth. Witnesses said homes as far as 10 kilometers (6 miles) away were damaged by the blast, and up to 300,000 people were left homeless by the explosion. The grain silos were destroyed, exacerbating food shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe financial crisis. About 15,000 tonnes (14,800 long tons; 16,500 short tons) of grain were destroyed, leaving the country with less than a month's worth of grain in reserve.
The damage from the blast affected over half of Beirut, with the likely cost above $15 billion and insured losses at around $3 billion. Approximately ninety percent of the hotels in the city were damaged and three hospitals completely destroyed, while two more suffered damage. Dozens of injured people brought to nearby hospitals could not be admitted because of the damage to the hospitals. Windows and other installations of glass across the city were shattered.
Saint George Hospital, one of the city's largest medical facilities, was less than 1 kilometer (5⁄8 mile) from the explosion, and was so badly damaged that staff were forced to treat patients in the street. Four nurses died from the initial blast, fifteen patients died after their ventilators stopped working, and several child cancer patients were injured by flying glass. Within hours, after discharging all its patients, and sending some to other facilities, Saint George Hospital was forced to close. The hospital's director of intensive care, Dr. Joseph Haddad, was quoted as saying: "There is no St. George Hospital any more. It's fallen, it's on the floor... It's all destroyed. All of it."
The cruise ship Orient Queen, berthed nearby, suffered extensive damage. Two members of the crew were killed, and seven crew members were injured. The ship capsized overnight. On 7 August, the first lawsuit related to the explosions was filed by the ship's owners, Abou Merhi Cruises, whose offices were also destroyed.
The livestock carrier Jouri was close to the epicentre. The cargo shipMero Star was severely damaged. The cargo ship Raouf H was closest to the site.AIS from these ships stopped broadcasting at the time of the explosion. The container shipCMA CGM Lyra was 1.5 kilometers (0.93 mi) from the site of the explosion and was undamaged. Two large abandoned livestock carrier ships, Abou KarimI and Abou KarimIII, were heavily damaged or destroyed in the explosions. They were laid up at the end of Berth 09, very close to Warehouse 12. In a photo of the aftermath, Abou KarimI, is unstable and keeling over onto the adjacent Abou KarimIII. Shortly afterwards the Abou KarimI capsized.[better source needed] The edible-oil tanker ship AmadeoII was completely destroyed in the explosions. The charred remains of the ship could be seen lying on land.
Hapag-Lloyd's offices in Beirut were destroyed.CMA CGM's offices, located a few hundred meters away from the site of the explosion, were severely damaged. One employee died and two were severely injured.
Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport, the city's main airport located approximately 10 km (6 mi) from the site of the blast, sustained moderate damage to the terminal buildings during the explosion. Doors and windows were destroyed, and ceiling tiles were shaken loose by the shockwave, severing electrical wires. Despite the damage, flights continued.
On 5 August, the Council agreed to place sixteen Beirut port officials who had overseen storage and security since 2014 under house arrest, overseen by the army, pending the investigation into the explosions. In addition, the general manager of the port Hassan Koraytem and the former director general of Lebanon's customs authority Shafiq Merhi were arrested. Later, on 17 August, the incumbent director-general of Lebanon's customs authority Badri Daher was also arrested. Also, former ministers of both finance and public works are due to be interrogated by a judge appointed by the Lebanon’s High Judicial Council. In the meantime, Lebanon's state prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat ordered a travel ban on seven individuals including Hassan Koraytem. On 19 August, a Lebanon judge ordered the arrests of more suspects over the Beirut August 4 explosion, making the number of accused to a total of 25.
The Lebanese Red Cross said every available ambulance from North Lebanon, Bekaa, and South Lebanon was being dispatched to Beirut to help patients. According to the agency, a total of 75 ambulances and 375 medics were activated in response to the explosions. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the government would make up to 100billion pounds (US$66million) in aid available to support recovery operations. The ride-sharing app Careem offered free rides to and from hospitals and blood donation centers to anyone willing to donate blood. Volunteers removed debris while local business owners offered to repair damaged buildings for free in the absence of a state-sponsored cleanup operation. A temporary hospital was established in the city by the Iranian Red Crescent Society.
Health Minister Hamad Hasan requested that international aid be sent to Lebanon; a number of countries sent in food, medical supplies, field hospitals, medical workers, and rescue teams. A large number of countries collectively pledged approximately US$300 million in aid. The money pledged was not to be given to the Lebanese government, but rather to the people of Lebanon through the United Nations, other international organizations, and non-governmental organizations. On 14 August, a $565 million appeal for Lebanon was launched by the United Nations, including initial recovery efforts, as well as immediate humanitarian aid.
In the first week after the explosion, civilians gathered in hundreds to volunteer to clean up the debris on the streets and inside homes and businesses in Gemmayze, Achrafieh, and Karantina neighborhoods. Many civil society organizations offered equipment and food to the volunteers, while many residents and businesses opened their homes and hotels for free to those who lost their homes in the blast.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced that 5 August, the day after the explosions, would be a national day of mourning. The Lebanese government declared a two-week state of emergency. President Aoun said the government would provide support to displaced people, and the Ministry of Health would meet the expense of treatment for the wounded.Marwan Abboud, the governor of Beirut, said he arrived at the scene to search for firefighters who were on the site attempting to control the fire that was raging prior to the second explosion. He broke down in tears on television, calling the event "a national catastrophe".Hezbollah launched a blood donation campaign on 5 August.
^Because the explosion occurred on the earth's surface, the seismic waves generated by the blast are not as strong as they would have been had the equivalent amount of energy been released from underground sources.
"Rhosus". Fleetmon [vessel tracker database]. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
^ abcJørgensen, Lars Bach (5 August 2020). "Ekspert forklarer, hvad der sandsynligvis skete i Beirut" [Expert explains what probably happened in Beirut]. TV 2 (in Danish). Retrieved 5 August 2020. The large amount of potentially dangerous fertilizer has been there since 2014, when the Moldavian ship Rhosus had to port due to engine problems.
^Geldi, Mahmut (14 August 2020). "Death toll in blast-hit Beirut rises to 177". Anadolu Agency. Retrieved 14 August 2020. The death toll from last week's massive explosion at Beirut port has risen to 177, Lebanese Health Minister Hassan Hamad said Thursday. Noting there were 30 people missing after the deadly blast in the capital, Hamad told a local TV channel the number of fatalities could reach up to 200.