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East Anglian port storing chemical linked with Beirut explosion

PUBLISHED: 18:25 10 August 2020

The Port of Ipswich opened a fertiliser bagging and packing plant in October 2018   Picture: COMMISSION AIR

The Port of Ipswich opened a fertiliser bagging and packing plant in October 2018 Picture: COMMISSION AIR

Associated British Ports (ABP)

Just one East Anglian port is currently being used to store ammonium nitrate – the chemical linked to a huge explosion in Beirut last week – port owners have confirmed.

A forklift takes bags of fertiliser packed at the new bagging plant at ABP's Port of Ipswich, on October 5, 2018.
Picture: STEPHEN WALLERA forklift takes bags of fertiliser packed at the new bagging plant at ABP's Port of Ipswich, on October 5, 2018. Picture: STEPHEN WALLER

Associated British Ports (ABP) owns ports across East Anglia at King’s Lynn, Lowestoft and Ipswich.

At the moment only the Port of Ipswich is being used to store the chemical although the Port of King’s Lynn is also set up to handle it.

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But it is being kept under very strict conditions which comply with rigorous safety standards, ABP confirmed.

An ABP spokeswoman said safety was “at the core of everything we do at ABP” and the company worked closely with relevant authorities to ensure it was stored and handled correctly.

Fertiliser being loaded into the new bagging plant at ABP's Port of Ipswich  

Picture: STEPHEN WALLERFertiliser being loaded into the new bagging plant at ABP's Port of Ipswich Picture: STEPHEN WALLER

Ammonium nitrate is mainly used as a high-nitrogen fertiliser for farming, but can also be used to create explosives for mining.

Nearly 3,000 tonnes of the chemical was taken from a ship off the coast of Beirut six years ago and stored in a warehouse at the port – with catastrophic results.

Its alleged unsafe storage in the Middle Eastern port has been blamed for an explosion which ripped through the port area of the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, August 4.

More than 200 people are believed to have been killed in the Beirut blast and thousands more injured.

From left, Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Countess of Euston, Henrik Pedersen, ABP CEO, BBC's Adam Henson, Mark Dordery, COFCO International UK Managing Director and ABP's Short Sea Ports Director Andrew Harston at the opening of the new fertiliser blending and bagging plant at ABP's Port of Ipswich  
Picture: STEPHEN WALLERFrom left, Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Countess of Euston, Henrik Pedersen, ABP CEO, BBC's Adam Henson, Mark Dordery, COFCO International UK Managing Director and ABP's Short Sea Ports Director Andrew Harston at the opening of the new fertiliser blending and bagging plant at ABP's Port of Ipswich Picture: STEPHEN WALLER

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical which is readily available around the world and can be kept safely, but when stored in dangerous conditions it can be the cause of serious industrial accidents.

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ABP expressed sympathy with those affected by the tragedy.

“Our thoughts go out to the people affected,” the ABP spokewoman said.

The new bagging machine in operation at the opening of the new fertiliser blending and bagging plant, at ABP's Port of Ipswich 
Picture: STEPHEN WALLERThe new bagging machine in operation at the opening of the new fertiliser blending and bagging plant, at ABP's Port of Ipswich Picture: STEPHEN WALLER

She added: “We would like to assure colleagues and local residents that all UK ports storing ammonium nitrate are required to meet strict UK/EU regulations to ensure the safe handling and storage of ammonium nitrate.

“ABP work closely with the local authorities, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive as well as conducting internal and external audits to ensure these safety measures are complied with.

“In addition, ABP carry out ammonium nitrate training courses which are delivered to all staff involved in the storing and handling of this substance.

“The ports of Ipswich and Kings Lynn both discharge and store ammonium nitrate, with only Ipswich currently storing the substance.

ABP's Short Sea Ports Director Andrew Harston applauds as Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Countess of Euston, unveils a commemorative plaque at the opening of the new fertiliser blending and bagging plant  Picture: STEPHEN WALLERABP's Short Sea Ports Director Andrew Harston applauds as Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, Countess of Euston, unveils a commemorative plaque at the opening of the new fertiliser blending and bagging plant Picture: STEPHEN WALLER

“Both ports operate to the same Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) and other safety regulations and standards as other sites across ABP.”

The Port of Ipswich opened its new £700k fertiliser blending and bagging plant run by its customer, Chinese-owned agriculture supply firm COFCO International UK, to serve a growing East Anglian and UK market back in 2018.

Combined, ABP’s East Anglian ports contribute £360m to the UK economy every year, as well as supporting 3,700 jobs in the region.

Between them they handle more than 3m tonnes of cargo every year, including more than 2m tonnes of agribulks and 170,000 tonnes of timber.

The Port of Ipswich is the UK’s main export port for agricultural products

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