Beirut: How judges responded to warnings about ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut port

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The information adds to a growing body of evidence, including emails and public court documents, that officials were told of a shipment of thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate – described by a Russian analyst as a “Floating bomb” – which is linked to Tuesday’s catastrophic explosion in the seaside capital.

After the explosion, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said it was “unacceptable” for a shipment of around 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to be stored in a warehouse for six years. However, documents obtained by CNN show that members of the Lebanese government and the judiciary were told large amounts of hazardous materials were stored there – and may have failed to protect them.

In 2013, a Russian ship, MV Rhosus, was arrested in Beirut with a cargo of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, used in industrial agriculture and mining. The cargo was supposed to be destined for Mozambique, but the ship stopped in Beirut due to financial difficulties.Baroudi & Associates, who represented the crew of the Russian ship, released a statement Wednesday saying it sent letters in July 2014 to Beirut port officials and the Ministry of Transport “warning of the dangers of materials carried on the ship.”

They state that they also received a letter that month “from the Director General of Land and Maritime Transport informing us that he had sent official letters to the Ministry of Justice asking them to do what is necessary so that the ship does not sink and expose the port to the danger of its load. ”

“He also told us that he had sent a letter to the naval authorities to do what is necessary to repair the ship and prevent it from sinking,” the statement wrote.

CNN has contacted the Lebanese Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Transport and the Port of Beirut for comment, but received no response.

Despite the warnings, the cargo remained in port.

Repeated warnings

Customs officials have sent repeated notifications about the dangerous cargo to a judge, according to documents seen by CNN. But the judge, who cannot be appointed for legal reasons, has repeatedly responded by saying the ship and its cargo may not fall under the jurisdiction of the court, the documents show.

In four handwritten responses written in 2016 and 2017, the judge and his successor responded to letters from Lebanese customs officials saying they should “discuss to what extent the jurisdiction of the tribunal” covers this issue.

Baroudi & Associates also said the intended destination of the potentially explosive cargo was Mozambique and was being shipped “on the orders of the International Bank of Mozambique for Fabrica De Explosives” when it was detained in Beirut.

The International Bank of Mozambique and Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique – a commercial mining company in Mozambique – did not respond to a request for comment.

But the manager of the port of Beira in Mozambique, António Libombo, denied having knowledge of the Russian ship, according to local Portuguese media Lusa. “Usually, before we receive a ship, we are notified. In this case, we never receive notification of a ship arriving at the port of Beira with these characteristics and this cargo, ”Libombo reportedly told Lusa.

The Mozambican Ministry of Transport and Communications also reportedly told Lusa that it had not been made aware of the Russian ship’s existence.

The possibility that the explosion could have been avoided has already sparked accusations of government negligence, rooted in long-standing frustration among Lebanese politicians.

The explosion, which killed more than 100 people and injured thousands, came as Lebanon was already experiencing rising unemployment, soaring prices and a plummeting currency. For many, the tragedy is further proof of the government’s ineptitude and corruption.

CNN’s Tara John, Tamara Qiblawi and Helen Regan contributed to this report.

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