1:00 AM, somewhere in France.
Pink Floyd playing in the background, and I, wrapping up my previous post before publishing it. Comfortably Numb. Or Confortablement engourdi since we are somewhere in France. A masterpiece of progressive rock if you ask me. And by the time David Gilmour was kicking his haunting second guitar solo, hell was breaking loose in a sunny Levantine country which until then thought it had struck a golden deal with time… The post was nearing the end. You probably read it a couple of days ago.
“We ended up believing that judgment day would never come…”
Hell broke loose on a Tuesday evening at 6:07 PM local time, when 2750 metric tons of unaccounted for and ill-stored Ammonium Nitrate went off in the port of Beirut in what would be later described as one of the largest artificial non-nuclear blasts in history, obliterating significant parts of the capital and causing 218 deaths, more than 7000 injuries and making thousands of people homeless.
I will not dwell on the causes. There is rant all over the place on the criminal carelessness of Lebanese officials or the endemic corruption undermining the country, including in some of my previous posts.
However, I cannot help but notice that the story leading to the disaster had been unfolding in broad daylight in the previous years, in general indifference. You know, the story on how 2750 tons of an explosive substance made it to a warehouse in the port of Beirut from an odd ship which would later sink in the port itself without anyone taking notice. “A ship? What ship?“
Weirdly enough, you can find hundreds of documented stories, news and articles on the port of Beirut and its tales over the past 7 or 8 years, from stories on customs seizing anything between 3.6 million Captagon pills and 20 smuggled iPhones to information on the port revenue, year in, year out. You can even find articles on the customs fight against corruption. Ha ha.
But not a hint about the elephant in the room: A 284 feet long cargo ship, the Rhosus MV.
Stranded there since 2013, abandoned by its Russian or Cypriot owners who allegedly went bankrupt, owning the port of Beirut more that 100 000 US dollars in accruing unpaid fees, with 2750 tons of a potentially explosive substance on board, and which ended up SINKING in the port, on its own, in February 2018, out of lack of maintenance, after its load had been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities and stored in one of the port warehouses a few years earlier.
And nothing either on the six warnings formally issued by customs and port officials to the (not so) competent authorities about the danger presented by the substance stored at the port, in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. It unraveled too late, a couple of days after the disaster…
OK. For the sake of argument, let us put aside the warnings, the explosive substance in the ship or out of it, the Russian owner and those behind him. And maybe even the port administration and customs, or especially those actually, and the hidden hand behind. Maybe these factors and actors were not so obvious. Maybe they were out of reach because we were too busy finding a place in the sun. Or surviving. Or not in the details of an opaque administration, and its corrupting volutes let us say. Or too afraid, standing to loose too much. Too exposed.
Or maybe they were out of reach because of our acute intellectual laziness, and God knows how much of that we have to spare.
But a ship sinking in plain sight in the port of Beirut?
How did we manage to overlook that?
How could have we become so numb?
So comfortably numb?
Hello? Is there anybody in there?
Let the board sound