Professionalism/Port of Beirut Chemical Explosion

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Introduction[edit | edit source]

On August 4th, 2020, Beirut, Lebanon was shaken with a devastating explosion. The blast was caused by a large quantity of the highly explosive ammonium nitrate stored unsafely in a warehouse at the port for years. The explosion resulted in the death of 218 people and over 7,000 injuries[1]. In addition, it caused an approximated $3.8-4.6 billion in material damages[2]. The blast was even felt 150 miles away in the Republic of Cyprus[3]. This event is classified as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and highlighted the need for an increase in safety regulations, and professional conduct when dealing with hazardous materials[1].

Timeline[edit | edit source]

The events leading up to the Port of Beirut disaster began in 2013, over 6 years prior to the explosion. In November 2013, the Rhosus, a ship carrying ammonium nitrate destined for Mozambique, stopped in the Port of Beirut to load cargo. There, port officials realized the vessel was not seaworthy and documented the hazardous material. A legal battle regarding what should happen to the Rhosus ensued, and in the confusion, port authorities were ordered to move the ammonium nitrate to land. The explosive material was stored in a hangar with inadequate safety conditions in October 2014. In the years following, customs officials attempted to have the ammonium nitrate moved, but were stopped by legal impediments. Military officials also failed to address the hazard. Documents dating back to November 2015 showed the Lebanese Army was aware of the situation, but did not have a use for the ammonium nitrate. Consequently, they took no action. It was not until early 2020 that State Security officer, Major Joseph Naddaf began an investigation. He found that the explosives posed an immense danger to the port should they detonate. Following Naddaf's report, Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the Cassation Public Prosecutor, Ghassan Oueidat, and President Michel Aoun were notified on June 3th, 2020, June 4rd, 2020, and July 21st respectively. On August 1st, 2020, under Ouiedat's direction, port authorities began maintenance on the hangar. On August 4th, 2020, reportedly, sparks from the welding maintenance ignited the ammonium nitrate causing an explosive chain reaction[1].

In the months after, Judge Sawan, who was overseeing the legal fallout, initially charged 37 people with responsibility, most of whom were mid and low-ranking port authority officials[1]. When he attempted to charge higher ranking officials including Diab, Sawan was removed from office by the Court of Cassation in February 2021[1]. In January 2023, Ouiedat called for the release of all the detainees associated with the blast[4].

Indirect Effects[edit | edit source]

The aftermath of the explosion had a considerable impact on Lebanon's economy and healthcare system. The economy of the country was already weakened by the decaying value of the currency and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, medicine supplies and housing were already expensive. After the explosion, more than 300,000 were left homeless[5]. Housing became unaffordable. The port of Beirut was a vital economic hub for Lebanon, and after the explosion its infrastructure was completely damaged, limiting imports and exports[6]. The healthcare system was already under strain due to COVID-19; the explosion caused damage to hospitals and healthcare facilities. The number of injured, coupled with the weakened healthcare system, made it impossible to attend everyone in need of medical attention. Furthermore, the explosion occurred in a time where there were already political issues in the country. Since October 2019, protests against the Lebanese government had been ongoing[7]. The government was highly criticized for its handling of the aftermath of the explosion, these included many officials accused of incompetence and corruption. The Lebanese citizens called for an independent investigation, and a political reform.

Professionalism[edit | edit source]

Professionalism, or lack thereof, across all levels of management and execution created the circumstances necessary for the explosion. For one, ammonium nitrate has caused many deadly explosions in the past. Had officials been aware of previous disasters, the danger could have been avoided. Failure to step up and take action was another notable shortcoming of nearly all participants. And lastly, the high ranking officials who were responsible avoided nearly all consequences.

History Repeats[edit | edit source]

The Tinjing Chemical Storage Explosion in 2015, the West Fertilizer Company explosion in 2013, and the Port Neal fertilizer explosion in 1994, among many others, all had been caused by ammonium nitrate. In the Port of Beirut case, guidelines and regulations were ignored. International groups such as the Ammunition Management Advisory Team (AMAT) have detailed the proper way to store ammonium nitrate[8]. Ventilation, distance to residential zones, and chemical packing density were all disregarded in Beirut[1]. George Santayana's quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is supported by this event. Adherence to the regulations implemented would have reduced the risk significantly, if not eliminated it all together.

Inaction[edit | edit source]

As early as 2014 authorities knew of the immense threat the ammonium nitrate posed. Customs official Joseph Skaf was reported to have documented the danger in February 2014. However, he died mysteriously in 2017 leading many to believe he was murdered. Customs official Nehme Brax also sent several letters to legal authorities asking for the chemicals to be disposed of, but his requests were denied by the judge on grounds that they could not authorize such actions[1]. Notably, when the problem reached Prime Minister Diab, he said, “I then forgot about it, and nobody followed up. There are disasters every day.”[1]

In every level of authority from the lowest ranking port official to the prime minister, no one took effective action. For those who had less authority such as the port officials, it would have required a heroic and professional defiance of the legal system to remove the ammonium nitrate. Corruption and potential for extreme consequences including imprisonment and death would make this kind of bravery difficult for the participants. Those with more power, such as Diab, had the authority to fix the problem but chose not to.

Blame[edit | edit source]

The explosion is attributed to the negligence of Lebanese authorities that were aware of the dangerous chemicals stored in the warehouse, but failed to take the appropriate measures. But in the Lebanese political system, high ranking officials enjoy various immunities from the law. Article 40 of the Lebanese constitution states: "No Chamber member may be prosecuted or arrested, during the session, for committing a crime, unless authorized by the Chamber, except in case he is caught in the act."[9] On December 17 of 2020, the investigation was stopped due to the charges being press against Sawan for targeting these immune officials. Many of the initial 37 low and mid-ranking officials initially charged were merely used as scapegoats[10]. In September 2021, citizens of Lebanon protested against attempted removal of the second lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar[11]. The investigation has not been active as of May 2023. Two years after the disaster, United Nations experts called on the Human Rights Council for an international investigation, but no official investigation has started as of May 2023[12]. Laury Haytayan, Middle East and North Africa Director of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, is quoted, "[The Lebanese government] cannot be efficient. They are efficient in corruption. But not in running a country.”[13] Her statement is supported by the fact that it took over 6 years to attempt to secure the ammonium nitrate, but less than 6 months to have Sawan removed from office. By scapegoating lower-ranked officials and attacking those who oppose them, the officials responsible for the explosion have managed to avoid all ramifications for their lack of action.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The Beirut chemical explosion was a tragic event that had significant consequences for Lebanon and its people. The aftermath of the explosion produced anger and discontent among the Lebanese citizens who accused the government of avoiding their responsibilities and failing to provide appropriate protection. The involved participants did not act ethically or professionally because they performed their obligations to the people poorly. They tried to avoid accountability by blaming low-level officials who were present during the storage of the ammonium nitrate, rather than the high level officials that were supposed to be upholding public safety. The Lebanese government also failed to provide safety by ignoring similar chemical explosions that occurred in the past due to unprofessional behavior. The tragedy was entirely preventable if participants had strived for professionalism in their duties.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d e f g h Majzoub, Aya (2021-08-03). ""They Killed Us from the Inside"". Human Rights Watch.
  2. "Q&A: Beirut Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment — August 2020". World Bank. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  3. Bressan, David. "Beirut Explosion Generates Seismic Waves Equivalent Of A Magnitude 3.3 Earthquake". Forbes. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  4. "Top prosecutor orders release of Beirut port blast detainees". El Dorado News Times. 2023-01-26. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  5. El Zahran T, Geha M, Sakr F, Bachir R, El Sayed M. (December 2022). "The Beirut Port Blast: spectrum of injuries and clinical outcomes at a large tertiary care center in Beirut, Lebanon". European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery. 48: 4919–4926 – via National Library of Medicine.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. "Beirut blast hammers grain import capacity but supplies still flow, WFP says" (in en). Reuters. 2020-09-15. 
  7. "The unprecedented mass protests in Lebanon explained". Amnesty International. 2019-11-11. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  8. "Introduction". Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  9. "Lebanese Constitution" (PDF).
  10. "Lebanon: No Justice 6 Months After Blast". Human Rights Watch. 2021-02-03. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  11. Chehayeb, Kareem. "Beirut blast survivors protest against suspension of probe". Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  12. "UN experts call for international investigation into 2020 Beirut explosion". OHCHR. Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  13. Raydan, Noam. "Lax Regulations Made Beirut Blast Possible". Forbes. Retrieved 2023-05-09.