US court rules case against company involved in Beirut blast can proceed

Federal judge says a jury should hear the case against TGS

At least 200 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured in the Beirut Port blast. EPA
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A US court has denied an energy company's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of nine victims of the deadly port explosion in Beirut three years ago.

The August 31 ruling was highlighted on Thursday by Accountability Now, the Swiss non-profit group suing TGS, an international geophysical and energy company whose operational headquarters are in Houston.

The lawsuit, filed last year in federal court in Texas, alleges that seismic study firm Spectrum, which TGS acquired in 2019, played a pivotal role in unloading the ammonium nitrate that exploded in the Beirut port.

“This marks another step towards accountability, but our goal is that justice prevail for all victims, both in Lebanon and abroad,” Accountability Now's Zena Wakim told The National.

In his ruling, US District Judge Kenneth Hoyt said a jury should hear the case.

Because Spectrum would have been aware of the Lebanese laws that regulated stores of ammonium nitrate, particularly in relation to a residential area, “it may have” legal exposure, he wrote.

A TGS representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. TGS has previously denied all allegations raised in the lawsuit.

In Lebanon, the investigation remains at a standstill because of political obstructions. Despite repeated calls from the international community, no senior officials have yet been held accountable for the tragedy.

About 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which is used as a fertiliser in agriculture and is a key ingredient in the production of explosives, was shipped to Beirut in 2013 on the Moldovan-flagged vessel Rhosus.

The Rhosus had been chartered in 2013 by Spectrum.

The chemicals detonated seven years later, claiming the lives of more than 200 people and devastating large parts of the capital, in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

Last year, Accountability Now filed a $250 million claim against TGS, saying it was responsible for any “wrongful conduct” by Spectrum.

Any proceeds from the case will be shared with a “special recovery fund” for all the blast victims and in support of “social relief project in Lebanon”, according to a statement from Accountability Now.

TGS had submitted motions to dismiss the case, all of which were rejected by the US Court.

Ms Wakim expressed hope that the US investigation could reveal information that might “unravel the chain that led to the explosion” and assist Lebanon's stalled inquiry.

“The next step is the full discovery process," she said, referring to the US court procedure where both sides are allowed to request evidence and witness lists from each other.

In this case, it “involves tens of thousands of documents, including correspondence held between Spectrum and Lebanese officials, which will allow us to obtain information that the Lebanese judge might not be able to access", Ms Wakim said.

Updated: September 12, 2023, 9:21 AM