Thursday, August 6, 2020

Huge Explosion Has Changed the Face of Beirut Forever as the Calls for a Full Enquiry Begin

Port Workers Feared to Have Suffered Biggest Losses as Stored Fertiliser Ignites
Shipping News Feature

LEBANON – The huge explosion, estimated to have had a force equivalent to 10% of the blast that devastated Hiroshima 75 years ago, has stunned the country, and even the world at large, as the recriminations begin. The fact that such a vast quantity of deadly cargo was left in storage within the Beirut port area will doubtless engender the full enquiry being called for by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch amongst others.

The concern from such organisations is placing the trust for a fair investigation with a judiciary which is subject already to criticisms of a possible cover up. Certainly the focus initially is on the Port of Beirut authorities who stored the 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate for over six years after it was seized from the Rhosus, a Moldovan flagged vessel subsequently abandoned by her owners.

Before the main blast people could be seen looking upward toward what are believed to be fireworks but the blast destroyed the watching security cameras at that point in an explosion which has left an estimated 300,000 homeless, over 100 dead and thousands injured and missing, this at a time when the country was reeling from both the Covid pandemic and the worst recession in twenty years.

Lebanon relies almost entirely on imports to feed the population and the destruction of some of the main grain stores leaves it with less than a month’s supply of essential foodstuffs. Aid teams and supplies are already being flown in from Russia, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran and Qatar and an assortment of EU countries, with France in the vanguard sending medical teams and President Macron to her former colony.

With the bulk of the dead and seriously injured likely to be those working in or visiting the port, messages of sympathy and solidarity were soon being sent. A statement from Willie Adams, International President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) summed up the feelings of port and logistics workers everywhere, saying:

”ILWU workers on the West Coast of the United States and Canada grieve the tremendous losses that Beirut is suffering following an explosion of stored material at a port warehouse. While the chaos of the explosion has yet to reveal the full scope of human loss, we are heartbroken to learn that longshore workers lost their lives when their worksite became ground zero for the catastrophic explosion. The city of Beirut and thousands of families will never be the same.

”Reports that the Lebanese government has put port authorities under house arrest while investigating the dubious storage of these explosive materials on the docks since 2014, and the likelihood that these deaths were preventable, are deeply disturbing but not surprising developments to those of us who work on the waterfront. Employers, port authorities and government agencies should always hold safety paramount on the waterfront, but, left unchecked, complacency and profit motive too often put workers’ lives at risk.

”The shocking images we are seeing in the news illustrate why dockworker unions fight for safety on the docks and the safe movement of cargo, to protect our lives and communities. The ILWU is closely monitoring the developments at the Port of Beirut, and we will determine the best way to assist when the facts become clearer. On behalf of my fellow Titled Officers, the Coast Committeemen and the rank and file membership, I extend our profound condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the dockworkers and the people of Beirut.”