Only a fraction of original ammonium nitrate shipment blew up in Beirut

Despite the fact that the amount of ammonium nitrate involved in the blast that shattered Beirut Port and the surrounding area in August 2020 was enough to make it one of the biggest ever non-nuclear blasts in history, an FBI investigation has found that the amount of chemicals in the Beirut blast was only a fifth of the original shipment that was unloaded there in 2013.

Much of the cargo appeared to have gone missing.

How such a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate – which can be used to make fertilizer or bombs – was left unsafely stored in a warehouse in the port of a capital city for so many years remains a mystery.

The FBI’s October 7th 2020 report was seen by Reuters last week. The report estimated that about 552 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded that day, while 2,754 tonnes had arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013.

A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.

Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen, according to Reuters.

The ammonium nitrate was going from Georgia to Mozambique on a Russian-leased cargo ship when the captain said that he was instructed to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut to take on extra cargo. The ship arrived in Beirut in November 2013 but never left, becoming involved in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. No one ever came forward to claim the shipment.

The FBI reported that the warehouse was large enough to house the 2,754 tonne shipment, which was stored in one-tonne bags, but added “it is not logical that all of them were present at the time of the explosion”.