Maputo — The warehouses in the three main Mozambican ports of Maputo, Beira and Nacala that store ammonium nitrate do so under safe conditions, the government spokesperson, Deputy Justice Minister Filimao Suaze, assured reporters on Tuesday.
Ammonium nitrate is used to produce fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides and explosives. A cargo of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, abandoned for over six years in a warehouse in the port of Beirut, exploded on 4 August, killing at least 220 people, wounding many thousands of others, and devastating the city.
The cargo was sent from the Georgian port of Batumi, on the Black Sea, and was destined for the central Mozambican port of Beira. But the ship, the "Rhosus", operated by a shady Russian businessman, put in at Beirut and the Lebanese authorities would not allow it to leave, partly because it was unseaworthy and partly because it had not paid port fees.
The Russian abandoned the "Rhosus", which eventually sank in Beirut harbour, while the cargo of ammonium nitrate lay, like a forgotten time bomb, in a port warehouse.
Questioned by reporters, at the end of the weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), Suaze said the handling of potentially dangerous chemicals in Mozambican ports is done in accordance with the safety rules established by Mozambican legislation.
Ammonium nitrate is regularly unloaded at Mozambican ports, mostly as a fertiliser, and mostly in transit to other countries, such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Only eight per cent of the fertilisers unloaded are for Mozambican domestic use, Suaze said. From 2015 to the present, the Mozambican ports handled over four million tonnes of fertiliser, including ammonium nitrate.
There was no record on any accidents in Mozambique involving ammonium nitrate, Suaze added. He knew that a Mozambican company had intended to import the Georgian ammonium nitrate seven years ago, but it never arrived.
The Mozambican Explosives Factory (FEM) has confirmed that it placed the order, but would only pay for the ammonium nitrate on its arrival. Since it never arrived, FEM simply ordered more of the chemical from another supplier.
Ships should inform the Mozambican port authorities seven to 14 days in advance of their arrival, including details of the type of cargo they are carrying. According to Cornelder, the Dutch company that manages the port of Beira, at no time did the port receive any information that the "Rhosus" intended to unload cargo at Beira.