We all have probably seen the videos and images of the explosion already, so I'm just going to cut to the core-- what led up to it?Obviously because the situation is new, so much of the information out there are being thrown around right now with people trying to make sense of the chaos that happened this morning around 8AM PST at Port of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.
THE INFORMATION SO FAR
PORT OF BEIRUT FACILITY MAP
THE WAREHOUSE FIRE
Warehouse fire broke out around 7:40AM PST - 7:50AM PST, which led to ignition of fireworks/firecrackers. The following video footage shows large concentration of smoke at the north end of the warehouse, with the smoke density decreasing as the view panned south. From multiple other angles that show the south end of warehouse 12, little to no smoke were seen.
The fire quickly spread south toward stockpiles (approx. 2750 tons) of ammonium nitrate, known as Nitropil Prilled Ammonium Nitrate (see next section), stored at warehouse #12. The spread of the fire led to combustion, which led to an instantaneous huge orange-tinted explosion.
NITROPIL PRODUCT INFORMATION
- Video 1 - Earliest footage in the timeline closest to the start of the fire
- Video 2 - A video from the rooftop of the auxiliary building to the west of warehouse 12, fireworks can be heard and seen popping, followed by firework explosion(?).
- VIdeo 3 - A video from the balcony of nearby building south of warehouse 12. The view in the footage is now showing fireworks flying and exploding through the warehouse 12 rooftop. 20-27 seconds in to the video, fire erupts from the sides and through the rooftop, now becoming appearance in the video. 30-35 seconds in to the video, a nitric explosion occurs.
HOW AND WHY DID THE FIRE START?
At this moment, these known hypothesis are being thrown around, not including the conspiracy theories:
- Worker smoking near flammable object that led to warehouse fire
- Workers welding to close up the doors to prevent theft of goods (https://geopoliticalfutures.com/more-questions-than-answers-over-the-beirut-blast/)
- Original fire started at a ship, then spreaded to warehouse #11, then to warehouse #12
It is not known if the fire had spreaded from warehouse #11, but it is known that the fire spread rapidly from the north end of warehouse #12. Videos and satellite maps support this.
HOW THE NITRATE GOT THERE & THE TIMELINE:
SEPTEMBER 9 2013 - Marine Vessel Rhosus docks at Port of Beirut, containing 2750 tons of Nitropil (Ammonium Nitrate; see last image). Snippet from The Arrest News confirms this (see below).
MARCH 2014 - An online article written by a Russian journalist, Mikhail Voyenko, did a brief coverage, gave a warning headline title that it's a ticking time bomb.
October 2015 - The Rhosus Vessel Debacle continues. The Arrest News publishes their quarterly issue, one section dedicated to the coverage on the Rhosus limbo.
Link to article here: https://shiparrested.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/The-Arrest-News-11th-issue.pdf
AUGUST 3 2020 - Marine Vessel MERO STAR, a general cargo, docks at the north from Warehouse 11 at 12:00PM PST.
AUGUST 4 2020
1:00AM PST - Marine Vessel RAOUF-H, a general cargo, docks at west/southwest from Warehouse 11 at 1:00AM PST.
7:40AM PST - Warehouse fire occurs (time is estimated)
7:54AM PST - First known image (as of time of writing) came in, explosion was reported.
8:33AM PST - Ammonium Nitrate explosion occurs
An article was published, which focuses on explaining the chemistry behind the smokes and the explosions.
9:11PM PST - MTV Lebanon reports that the seaport is completely destroyed in the aftermath-- only perhaps 3% remains.
10:50PM PST - AP publishes an article with gallery of aftermath photos taken from the drone.
WHAT ABOUT THE VESSELS?
As of currently, it is not 100% confirmed yet if the vessels docked at the port were carrying fireworks (to be updated if info come out to disprove/confirm this). Information about their cargos are not readily available at this time. But these vessels were carrying goods and docked next to each other(see the vessel traffic tracker) within the same timeframe , which probably spurred human activities around warehouse #11 and warehouse #12.
You can see these two cargo ships damaged from the blast below:
THE UNKNOWN PICTURE
A picture of the workers working the warehouse door began cirulating on August 4th, shortly after the accident. The earliest date I was able to get was from around 8:15AM AUgust 4th, based on the EXIF data I obtained from it. I believe the image might have propagated through other social media apps like Whatapps or Telegram before it landed on Twitter.
I merged the image with the video frame to match the door in the two images.
Please bear in mind that the photo was most likely taken at other time, and it most likely not be from the time of the incident.
The incident seems to be due to workplace negligence as well as due to local management incompetency, and snail-paced handling of the goods management by the governments AND/OR bureaucracy.
WHAT OTHER CONSEQUENCES ARE THERE?
Lebanon is currently going through economic hardship. The recent incident at Port of Beirut will no doubt exacerbate the existing hardship the citizens will have to endure.
No doubt did this accident introduce seven more problems the government are now forced to face:
- Environmental contamination from nitric explosion.
- Food supply contamination to the grains.
- Short-term and long-term medical issues that will arise.
- The disruption of essential services like electricity and healthcare.
- On top of the damages caused by the explosion, the country is struggling to maintain COVID-19 pandemic.
- Disruption to the market-- especially grains. The destruction of the country 48 grains silos used for its 85% grains import is a major setback (see this page for full info on the port terminals: https://dlca.logcluster.org/display/public/DLCA/2.1.1+Lebanon+Port+of+Beirut).
- Disruption to logistics supply chains-- the country is heavily dependent on imported goods to supply its country, and the Port of Beirut is one of its lifeline.
- Challenges the legitiacy of the government leadership and the State.
To also understand the scale of impacts, I suggest doing a quick glance through the Lebanon Port of Beirut Logistics Assessment report published in 2017. It is not good.
The country is currently still in the state of shock, its people are still trying to make sense of the disaster that happened, tomorrow, few days, weeks, or even a month from now, I'm expecting a significant political event to unfold as the people digested what just happened and what led up to it.
Regardless, people will be looking for something and someone to blame, and it will happen. The government have very limited time to quickly get the situation in control.