UN Called to Assist Port of Beirut Investigation

Port of Beirut after the blast (Mehr News / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published Nov 28, 2021 11:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

More than a year after the explosion at the Port of Beirut, the official investigation remains beset by delays and recriminations, leaving the families of the victims and survivors desperate for justice.

The matter has split the Lebanon’s Cabinet, which has not met for over a month, on allegations that the lead judge Tarek Bitar is biased. Some political factions want the judge removed.

According to the Beirut Bar Association, which is representing over 2,000 families and survivors, information from the United Nations would help to end the stalemate.

Though the UN has called for a “prompt and independent investigation that leads to justice and accountability,” the bar association claims that the offices of Secretary General Antonio Guterres have failed to help out after three requests for information.

The association has asked the UN to help by providing satellite photos taken on the day of the blast. Its members also want to determine whether UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) – a UN peacekeeping mission - checked MV Rhosus when it entered the port back in 2013. The Rhosus was the ship that carried the cargo of explosive ammonium nitrate that was seized and held at the Port of Beirut, where it sat for the next six years.

The bar association alleges that UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force (MTF), tasked with securing Lebanon’s maritime border, failed to properly check MV Rhosus as it was entering the port.

In an interview this week with Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA), UNIFIL’s Spokesperson Adrea Tenetti said the claims are unfounded and unsubstantiated.

“The role of UNIFIL’s MTF is to hail ships that are approaching Lebanon and refer any suspicious ships to the Lebanese authorities, who are the ones responsible for carrying out the inspection of those ships independently. UNIFIL cannot board and conduct physical inspection of any vessel in Lebanese territorial waters unless specifically requested by the Lebanese authorities,” Tenetti said.