Beirut’s cataclysmic harbour explosion has raised fears the same thing could happen in Durban.
Beirut’s cataclysmic harbour explosion has raised fears the same thing could happen in Durban.

Beirut blast can't happen in Durban, says port

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Aug 8, 2020

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Durban - The extraordinary explosion of chemicals in Beirut, Lebanon, has prompted activist Desmond D’Sa to highlight his concern for South Durban residents’ vulnerability.

“There is not even an emergency plan to evacuate people,” he told the Independent on Saturday.

“There is nowhere to go.”

D’Sa said that for the past nine years his South Durban Community Environmental Alliance had been asking for an emergency evacuation plan that should include a dedicated radio station, drills every week and venues to go to.

“The last venue we had was Clairwood Race Course, but that was taken away by the city.”

He said a Beirut situation was “sitting on our doorstep”.

The city denied his accusations, saying that it was “more than ready to deal with any calamity”.

Municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela issued a response that made no mention of evacuation plans, but expressed concern about NGOs that “survive on fanning disinformation and creating unnecessary alarm to the public”.

“The safety and the welfare of all our residents in general will always be a priority and we will never be distracted in that regard by formations who are clutching at straws to get attention.

“However, the city is open to work with the civil society that genuinely works towards the improvement of the wellbeing of all in the society.”

When ammonium nitrate - the chemical that exploded in Beirut, killing more than 150 people and wounding thousands more - arrives at the harbour, it is subject to a strict procedure and may not be stored, said Captain Justin Adams, acting harbour master for the Port of Durban.

“It is only handled at one specific berth and it must be declared to the authority prior to the vessel’s arrival to ensure that it is transported out immediately via rail wagons that would be arranged and on standby prior to the vessel’s arrival,” he said.

“We do not allow any storage of ammonium nitrate in the Port of Durban.”

Adams said Transnet National Ports Authority insisted that all ports in South Africa conducted extensive risk assessments annually.

The 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut had reportedly been stored there for several years, and authorities had been warned it was unsafe.

The Independent on Saturday

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