Beirut blast prompts concerns over ammonium nitrate at Rotterdam port
Following a massive explosion in Beirut that left at least 190 people dead, there are concerns in the Rotterdam city council about ships carrying large amounts of ammonium nitrate stopping at the port of Rotterdam on a regular basis, Nieuwsuur reports.
The Beirut blast was 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploding. Several dozen large ships carrying this substance moor in Rotterdam every year. At the end of August, the Ditlev Reefer moored at the port with 7 thousand tons of ammonium nitrate in its hold, according to the program. Experts told Nieuwsuur that the chance of an explosion is very small, but not nonexistent.
Robert Klumpes (GroenLinks), a Zuid-Holland member of the Council of States, raised concerns about the Ditlev Reefer with the Rotterdam city council, parliament, and the Provincial Council. "You shouldn't want a ship with such a cargo. If a ship like that explodes in Rotterdam, it would surpass images of the 1940 bombing," Klumpes said to Nieuwsuur. "Such an explosion can blow up the city. Why should we take such a risk?"
In a letter to parliament, State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven of Infrastructure wrote that the ammonium nitrate on the Ditlev Reefer had no explosive properties. "In order to give ammonium nitrate explosive properties, the substance's properties must be changed, for example by adding external substances and adding an ignition mechanism," she explained.
In itself, ammonium nitrate is not an explosive substance, Genserik Reniers, professor of safety and hazardous materials, confirmed to Nieuwsuur. "But it can still explode as a result of an external effect, such as a fire on or next to the ship." The impact of such a blast could be catastrophic, he said. "If you want to know what the consequences could be, look to Beirut. Those images show a war zone. The 7 thousand tons on this ship is more than double that of Beirut."
The Rotterdam port checks about 10 percent of the ships that moor in the city, and that included the Ditlev Reefer, harbor master Rene de Vries said. "Then we assess whether the ship may come in or not. The ship Ditlev Reefer had a lot of ammonium nitrate, do we checked it."
Hazardous substances are covered by international regulations and the port ordinance, De Vries explained. "For example, a tanker with petrol may only go to the Europort area, not too close to the city. There are no restrictions for this type of ammonium nitrate," he said. He sees no reason to adjust the rules at this time. Inspections are professional and safety regulations are strict, he said.
The municipality of Rotterdam also considers the current rules sufficient, according to Nieuwsuur. But a majority in the city council is concerned and will demand a debate on the matter, the program reported.