Wednesday, August 5, 2020

PORT SAFETY, USA---Misinformation Explosion Rocks White House & --DUBIOUS PRESS FOLLOWUP

      “You can’t show up unprepared for the Middle East. Careless messaging from the White House has consequences, even when no one takes the tweeter seriously.” (Tom Fletcher, former British ambassador to Lebanon, The Guardian)


     (PIER 13)--"President Donald Trump said U.S. military generals have told him that they 'seem to feel' the massive explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least 70 people, was a 'terrible attack' likely caused by a bomb." (Military Times)
The article, however, fails to mention which generals made the unsubstantiated claim that prompted the president to announce his wild theory. Using what is known as "journalist's privilege," Lolita Baldor and Deb Reichmann reported for the Associated Press in the Star Tribune that;
     "The officials, speaking only on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments, said that while it was not out of the realm of possibility that the blast was deliberately caused, the belief so far is that it was most likely an accident."
What has the Associated Press Stylebook, 2020-2022 edition, have to say about using anonymous sources?
      "Whenever possible, we pursue information on the record. When a source insists on background or off-the-record ground rules, we must adhere to a strict set of guidelines." (AP Stylebook, 18)
The rules are based on reliability of the source and is not an opinion. There is according to the guidelines, in the Baldor-Reichmann article, a stipulation as to why the source chose to remain anonymous. From the above, the Associated Press story might be considered unreliable according to its own rules. That same news article claims experts have suggested fireworks were the fuse that set off the ammonium nitrate, but again, no experts are named. This is a typical example of the obfuscation caused by the media in the wake of such a tragic accident, with the president using the very means he condemns, fake news, to hype the incident.
  In yet another updated report by Alex Woodward for The Independent, a top cop in Lebanon offered another explanation; 
     "Lebanese General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim said the explosions were likely set off by material that had been seized several years ago, according to the Associated Press." (The Independent)
However, again, the reference is to the Associated Press, where it has already been established that the AP may have dubious credentials in spite of its international footprint. Note also that Arab News reports an unnamed "official source" cited by Reuters; 
     " 'It is negligence,' the official source told Reuters, adding that the storage safety issue had been before several committees and judges and 'nothing was done' to issue an order to remove or dispose of the highly combustible material." (Arab News)
The online news agency, published in Saudi Arabia, also fails to provide a name of the reporter(s) who wrote the article.
     Background to the origin of the ammonium nitrate stored in the Beirut port warehouse has been found via Business Insider and posted on F. Arizon's "The Arrest News"  Issue 11 dated October 2015; 
      "On 23/9/2013, m/v Rhosus, flying the Moldovian flag, sailed from Batumi Port, Georgia heading to Biera in Mozambique carrying 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate in bulk. En route, the vessel faced technical problems forcing the Master to enter Beirut Port. Upon inspection of the vessel by Port State Control, the vessel was forbidden from sailing. Most crew except the Master and four crew members were repatriated and shortly afterwards the vessel was abandoned by her owners after charterers and cargo concern lost interest in the cargo. The vessel quickly ran out of stores, bunker and provisions." (The Arrest News, 2013)
At the time of seizure of the cargo, attorneys representing the vessel pleaded in court for the release of the crew in light of the "dangerous nature of the cargo still stored in the ship's holds."  It appears from the file at The Arrest News that no one owned the cargo at all and it was left to port officials as what to do with it.The ship itself, the m/v Rhosus, was featured in a FleetMon article written by Mikhail Voytenko in 2014; 

     "General cargo vessel RHOSUS called Beirut, Lebanon, in October last year. Vessel loaded with ammonium nitrate was destined for another country, the reason she called Beirut is unclear, maybe for supplies or due to some mechanical trouble. RHOSUS was detained after PSC inspection, which found a number of deficiencies. Since then vessel is stranded in Beirut. By now only four crew stay on board – Master (Russian nationality), Chief and Third Engineers and Bosun, all of them Ukrainians. Vessel was owned and operated by Mr. Grechushkin Igor, Russian citizen now Cyprus resident (last known manager Teto Shipping, Cyprus)." (FleetMon)

The Siberian Times has photos of the owner and the crew during the 2013 abandonment. (Siberian Times)

     With reference to the immediate response from online paranoia purveyors, that the explosion was a nuclear detonation, a comparison to a 10 kiloton explosion was mapped over at Alex Wellerstein's Nuclear Secrecy with the resulting image showing nearly the same radius of destruction. The specifics indicate a 200 meter fireball radius, blast damage up to 500 meters (the port boulevard vicinity) and is categorized as an "HEU" nuclear terrorist device. (Nuke Map)

     Instead of using the accident as just another means to showboat ignorance in front of the camera, it would have been far more appropriate to inform an already nervous nation that immediate inspections of all United States port facilities are underway to assure a similar catastrophe will not happen in America. Apparently, the safety and well being of the public is of minimal concern to the White House. 
     Historically, a similar accident did occur in 1947. A French ship in Texas City, near Galveston, was loading the very same chemical, ammonium nitrate,  when 2,300 tons, nearly equivalent to the amount in the Beirut explosion, caught fire and exploded resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of casualties. (Britannica)    According to the 2017 Galveston Daily News article by Tom Bassing, it remains the nation's single "worst industrial disaster."

Beirut is also referred to as the "Paris of the Middle East"

The deadly explosion that devastated Beirut appears to have been far more powerful than the 'Mother of All Bombs'

A warehouse area at a port in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, exploded Tuesday, causing high numbers of casualties and extensive damage. The explosion is under investigation, a focal point of which is thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly-explosive material, improperly stored in the area.

Associated Press Stylebook, 55th Edition, Hachette Book Group, NY, 2020