The Blast Episode 1: how the ammonium nitrate that blew up Beirut got to Lebanon

‘The Russian and the Rhosus’ - The first instalment of a ‘Beyond the Headlines’ special four-part investigation into the Beirut explosion on August 4, 2020

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August 4, 2020, was a muggy day in Lebanon, the kind that sends you inside to hide in the AC or behind a fan. The National’s Beirut correspondent Finbar Anderson was sat scrolling Twitter when he saw videos of a fire at Beirut port. As a video journalist, it looked like a quick news story, so he grabbed his kit and was getting ready to head down.

That’s when the blast blew a wall of glass across his living room. In a moment, his apartment was devastated and he was badly injured.

As Finbar managed to get outside, he realised it wasn’t just him – the entire street, the streets beyond and much of Beirut lay in ruins.

On August 4, 2020, the heart of Beirut was ripped apart by a huge explosion caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonating at the city’s port. Finbar, like many others, spent the rest of that day being seen by doctors at blown-apart hospitals. The next days too were focused on recovery.

Now, a year on, he sought to get answers to questions that so many in Lebanon have – who was responsible for the Beirut blast, how did the ammonium nitrate end up there, who knew about it and what caused the explosion.

The Blast from Beyond the Headlines traces the events of that tragic day.

In Episode 1, Finbar enlists Erin Clare Brown, The National’s Tunis correspondent and resident Russian speaker. They track down Boris Prokoshev, the captain of the Rhosus – the ship that first brought the cargo of ammonium nitrate to Beirut Port. Boris tells us about the ill-fated voyage from the start, how a detour brought them to Beirut and how it – and he – got stuck there.

Over the next three episodes, we’ll hear from officials at the port about how it sat there for six years, who knew and why nothing was done. In Episode 3, we’ll trace the events of August 4 and hear how the blast ripped apart lives and livelihoods. And we’ll conclude with Episode 4 and look at what’s happened in the year since the explosion, who has been accused, how life has changed and what justice the victims of that explosion are seeking.

Updated: August 05, 2021, 5:16 AM