A BRITISH court has ruled that the London-based chemical company behind the shipment of the ammonium nitrate which caused a deadly blast in Beirut port killing over 130 people in 2020, is liable towards the victims caught up in the incident.
The judgment by the High Court of Justice in London means that the proceedings now move to a “damages phase" of the case that determines the firm's compensation for the families, Camille Abousleiman, one of the lawyers involved in the case, told the Associated Press (AP). “It’s the first time there is an actual judgment on this matter in reputable courts,” Abousleiman, added. The ruling “certainly will open the door for potential justice in courts overseas.”
The firm in question is Savaro Ltd, a chemical trading company suspected of having chartered the shipment of the 2,750 t of ammonium nitrate which arrived in Beirut port in 2013. It was then left in a port warehouse adjoining commercial and residential areas of central Beirut, until it exploded in 2020. The industrial chemical, which is used mainly as fertiliser in agriculture, and in explosives used in mining, was apparently on route to Mozambique in a Moldovan-flagged ship known as the Rhosus, but entered Beirut port after suffering technical problems.
The explosion, which also injured over 5,000 people, was believed to have started when a fire in warehouse nine at the port spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was being housed.
According to AP however, it remains unclear who the owner of Savaro Ltd is. Steps were taken by UK authorities to block the firm's attempts to dissolve the company shortly after the lawsuit was lodged. Despite orders by the High Court of Justice in June 2022 for the company to reveal its true owners, the firm has not done so.
Families of the victims have also filed a US$250m lawsuit against an American-Norwegian firm, TGS, for their suspected involvement in the shipment of the explosive material. TGS has denied any wrongdoing.
The Beirut Bar Association, along with three of the victims' families, filed a claim against Savaro Ltd in London in August 2021, after it appeared the case could no longer be pursued in Lebanon.
The latest developments suggest that work by Tarek Bitar, the second judge to lead the investigation, was blocked pending a Court of Cassation ruling after three former Cabinet ministers filed legal challenges.
Various accounts emerged after the incident claiming that the issue of storing enough ammonium nitrate to “blow-up all of Beirut” had been brought to the attention of “several committees and judges” but that nothing was done about it. Although the initial number of reported deaths vary, the latest court filings claim 218 were killed by the blast.
The same report by AP states that Bitar charged four former senior government officials with intentional killing and negligence that led to the deaths of dozens of people. Several top security officials in the case were also charged by Bitar.
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.