Years of Criminal Incompetence and Bureaucracy Led to Beirut Disaster

The Beirut explosion was the result of over six years of criminal incompetence and bureaucracy in Lebanon.

2750 tons of ammonium nitrate in the form of small pellets was intended as agricultural fertilizer for Mozambique. It was sent on a financially troubled Russian owned ship. The ship owners did not pay the crew and the material ended up getting impounded.

The ship was called the Rhosus. In 2013, it was leaking but seaworthy at the time. It was sent to Beirut by its owner to take on an additional cargo of heavy equipment because of financial difficulties.

The ship and cargo were abandoned by her owners. The African buyers lost interest in the cargo.

In 2014 the port authorities transferred the ammonium nitrate into a Warehouse next to the grain silos. The lawyers said the cargo was “awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal”.

The port’s general manager, Hassan Koraytem, and the director-general of Lebanese Customs, Badri Daher, both said they and other officials repeatedly warned the judiciary about the danger posed by the stored ammonium nitrate and the need to remove it.

The explosion killed at least 137 people and injured about 5,000 others, while dozens are still missing. The crater is about 200 meters across.

Incompetence and Bureaucracy are Very Deadly and Dangerous

There was never much chance that this was done on purpose. There was so much material that it would only have been an attack if the thousands of tons of material was in a ship that sailed unchallenged into the port. The only scheme that could make sense is if someone found out about the incompetent storage and then helped detonate the material by starting the other fire.

The other reason that it was not done on purpose is that there no political or monetary gain for anyone to cause more trouble for Lebanon. They are poor and trying to recover from civil war and many other problems.

Being stupid is more dangerous than corruption. Corruption tends to mean that you could be competent but choose to steal some extra amount. Stupidity means that you might have no idea what the correct actions or choices are. Bureaucracy means you are applying rules and do not care whether those rules should be applied to any particular situation. The downsides on stupidity are unlimited because no one realizes how bad it could get. In corruption,

Written By Brian Wang,

23 thoughts on “Years of Criminal Incompetence and Bureaucracy Led to Beirut Disaster”

  1. This was most certainly NOT an Ammonium Nitrate (prilled urea) explosion. Anyone here that would like to have a serious and scientific discussion to this fact is welcome to comment.

  2. Probably anyone who was in it for the money has managed to get themselves in charge of something more lucrative than fertiliser.
    $500/t is too much like hard work compared to the $/kg of iphones or even TVs.

  3. Well, the history of the Lebanese government doesn’t fill me with confidence there wasn’t something criminal.

  4. I suppose this is a silver lining. I’m glad it wasn’t an attack. Hopefully they can start doing a better job of keeping their affairs in order to prevent another situation like this in the future.

  5. I’m pretty sure that the level of incompetence was criminal is the intended meaning.
    The actual stated actions here don’t involve any theft or other such overtly criminal actions. (Except the actual original not-paying-the-sailors on behalf of the shipping company.)

    As I stated above, that you can have 2750t x $500/t = $1 3750 000 worth of fertiliser, with no actual owner, sitting around in a warehouse, in an agricultural country, without most of it “getting lost” out the back door says that actually these guys are not corrupt.

    (And that is the bulk wholesale price. Retail is probably a lot more.)

  6. I’m having a hard time deciding if I should read that title as ‘incompetence that was criminal’ or ‘criminals that were incompetent.’

  7. They probably reversed the payment and got their money back, and the Russian ship owner wound up with the cargo of nitrate they had no way to convert into cash, which caused it and the ship to be abandoned due to bankruptcy.

  8. Mozambique? Didn’t see that coming. This cargo had to be worth quite a bit. Strange that they just abandoned it, and the ship.

  9. Right. I’m only suggesting that disposal of the material might have been impeded because it was useful to terrorists as a stockpile of bomb making material to covertly draw down. Don’t need to smuggle ammonium nitrate into Lebanon so long as there’s a few thousand tons of it in Beirut, with an unguarded back door.

  10. deliver 2500 tons is not a covert operation, 3 tons fit in a van, but at that scales high yield explosives are more practical

  11. If only they were properly corrupt, someone would have long ago sold off what is a useful and widely sort after commodity.

  12. Really, what gave it away? This title is surprising. Most of the third world stays in the dark ages because of government corruption and graft. Anyone who is a big government type should understand their are no angels who have no agenda. People in government have agendas and promote themselves over the masses and the ruled.

  13. Three tons was confiscated by MI5 in Britain, another similar stash was located by German intelligence a few years past. Threats were made in recent years to deliver this poor-man’s atomic bomb to Tel Aviv.

  14. Bureaucracy means you are applying rules and do not care whether those rules should be applied to any particular situation. 

    No. You should find a word that best describe that situation, bureaucracy already has it’s own definition. Epistemic consistency is hard enough without everyone redefining words on the fly.

  15. I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that it was being kept there as a handy supply for Hezbollah, and that’s why they wouldn’t dispose of it.

    But, yes, it doesn’t really make any sense as an attack.

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