The initial results of the investigation of the most powerful blast in the port of Beirut, which leaves over 100 people dead, point to negligence, Reuters reported referring to a source familiar with the investigation.
According to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, 2,750 tons of saltpeter, used to make fertilizers and explosives, were stored in the port for six years without proper security measures.
“It is negligence,” the official source told Reuters, noting that the issue on storing the material safely had come before several committees and judges and “nothing was done” to order the material be removed or disposed of.
According to him, the fire started in warehouse 9 and then spread to warehouse 12, where the saltpeter was stored.
The head of the Lebanese customs service, Badri Daher, told LBCI TV that customs officers sent documents 6 times warning of the potential danger of the stored material.
“We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why,” Daher noted.
Another source close to the port authorities said the team, which had inspected the cargo six months ago, warned that it could “blow up all of Beirut” if not removed.
According to two documents reviewed by Reuters, Lebanese customs approached the authorities in 2016 and 2017 to authorize the "concerned maritime agency" to re-export or approve the sale of saltpeter that was offloaded from the Rhosus vessel.
In one of the documents, similar proposals were announced in 2014 and 2015.
A 2015 report posted on Shiparrested.com, a specialized database, said the Rhosus, sailing under a Moldovan flag, docked in Beirut in September 2013 due to technical issues. The vessel was sailing from Georgia to Mozambique with 2.750 tons of saltpeter on board.
The report says that the inspectors banned the ship from going to sea, and soon after, its owners abandoned the ship.