Sunday, September 27, 2020 | ePaper

We mourn deaths in Beirut blast and demand proper investigation

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A SERIES of small, silly mistakes, bureaucratic indifference and greed over a period of time can lead to deadly disasters of huge proportions. In Lebanon, this happened on Tuesday when a blast sent black, orange mushroom clouds high up in the air and a powerful shock wave in all directions, destroying everything in its path - port structures, shipping containers and residential buildings leaving around 300,000 homeless, thousands injured and scores dead. Four Bangladeshis have been killed and around 100 others, including Bangladesh Navy officials have been injured in the explosion.
The explosion appears to have been accidental, a conflagration of chemicals taken from an impounded ship and left in a warehouse for six years, but tragic accidents are not random acts of nature. They have causes that can be investigated, roots in the choices that people have made. The magnitude of negligence by Lebanese officials cannot be overstated. From the enforcement officials who collect docking charges to customs authorities whose job is to screen deadly cargo to judges in the Lebanese courts, the chain of accountability will be very long when investigators fix responsibility for the disaster. While a full investigation will take some time, preliminary enquiries blamed "inaction and negligence".
What happened in Beirut is a textbook example of bureaucratic and judicial negligence with terrifying consequences. The catastrophe is also a lesson for other global ports where vessels laden with dangerous cargo routinely enter and exit busy shipping lanes in proximity to densely populated cities. In this disaster, beyond the scope of Lebanese investigators lies a big role of international authorities.
The agency should investigate how 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was allowed to sail on a single decaying vessel from Georgia. Shady operators are known to subvert safety rules and risk lives of shipping crew by accepting to transport dangerous chemicals. The shipping industry and its regulator cannot shirk responsibility from Beirut disaster.

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