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Lebanese officials unloaded a 'floating bomb' and apparently ignored warnings for years, according to reports

Business Insider logoBusiness Insider 6/8/2020 cdavis@insider.com (Charles Davis)
a close up of a rock near the ocean: BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 05: An aerial view of ruined structures at the port, damaged by an explosion a day earlier, on August 5, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. As of Wednesday, more than 100 people were confirmed dead, with thousands injured, when an explosion rocked the Lebanese capital. Officials said a waterfront warehouse storing explosive materials, reportedly 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, was the cause of the blast. Haytham El Achkar/Getty Images © Haytham El Achkar/Getty Images BEIRUT, LEBANON - AUGUST 05: An aerial view of ruined structures at the port, damaged by an explosion a day earlier, on August 5, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. As of Wednesday, more than 100 people were confirmed dead, with thousands injured, when an explosion rocked the Lebanese capital. Officials said a waterfront warehouse storing explosive materials, reportedly 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, was the cause of the blast. Haytham El Achkar/Getty Images
  • An expert said back in 2014 that Lebanese authorities had a "floating bomb" on their hands, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday.
  • "There are a lot of restrictions, regulations and rules to stick to when talking about storing explosives like ammonium," Voytenko told The Daily Beast, "but they just stored it in a warehouse and forgot about it."
  • Customs officials wrote several letters to Lebanese judges asking for a solution to the dangers cargo but apparently received no response, Al Jazeera reported.
  • The Lebanese government has now placed several officials at the Beirut port under house arrest, according to the BBC.

Lebanese officials and maritime experts knew that a ticking time bomb had been unloaded at the port in Beirut, but authorities appeared to disregard years of warnings — culminating in an explosion that killed at least 135 people — according to reports.

As The Daily Beast reported Wednesday, the Russian ship that was stranded at the port, abandoned by its owner while carrying some 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, was termed by analyst Mikhail Voytenko a "floating bomb" all the way back in 2014.

"There are a lot of restrictions, regulations, and rules to stick to when talking about storing explosives like ammonium," Voytenko told The Daily Beast, "but they just stored it in a warehouse and forgot about it."

Not everyone did. Shafik Merhi, then the director of Lebanese Customs, wrote a letter in June 2014 asking a judge "for a solution to the cargo," Al Jazeera reported. Customs officials continued to send letters in the years following, the current director, Badri Daher, penning one in 2017 noting "the danger... of leaving these goods in the place they are."

Now that a tragedy has occurred, though, there is action — or, some argue, point-scoring: numerous port officials have now been placed under house arrest, the BBC reported Wednesday.

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