Calls to shift ammonium nitrate imports from Vizag port gain traction

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on August 10, 2020 Published on August 10, 2020

Vizag warehouses store 10 times more ammonium nitrate than what set off the Beirut blast

Godowns close to Central government-run Visakhapatnam Port Trust, India’s biggest ammonium-nitrate importing port, hold more than 10 times the quantity of the compound that led to the August 4 explosion at Beirut in Lebanon, making the port and nearby areas a sitting duck for a disaster.

The frightening prospects of a disaster has triggered calls to ban the import of ammonium nitrate through the Visakhapatnam Port Trust and shift it to a port with fewer risks, government and port industry sources said.

Visakhapatnam Port Trust handled 3.13 lakh metric tonnes (mt) of ammonium nitrate imports in FY17, 1.65 lakh mt in FY18, 2.57 lakh mt in FY19, 2.50 lakh mt in FY20 and about 0.85 lakh mt in the current fiscal.

“At any given time, more than 10 times the Beirut quantity is stored in the godowns in the vicinity of the Port,” a cargo handling agent at Vizag said.

The location of the storage is also close to the full fleet of the Eastern Naval Command and an oil refinery of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL), with all its storage tanks.

The presence of a fertiliser factory nearby, with pipelines carrying ammonia and phosphoric acid from the port to the factory, add to the risks.

“Any mishap involving these chemicals may adversely act by reaching the ammonium nitrate, stored not too far away, resulting in incalculable disaster,” a cargo-handling agent said, adding that Vizag hasn’t seen any “untoward incidents till date” due to the “careful handling of the cargo”.

“However, after seeing the effects of the Beirut blast, which wiped out more than half the city with only 2,750 mt of ammonium nitrate, one shudders to think of the effects on Vizag city in the event of a mishap with additional risks to the defence establishment, the naval fleet and the highly inflammable oil storage tanks of HPCL,” the cargo agent said.

One of India’s three strategic crude oil storage facilities is also located in Visakhapatnam.

The blast at Beirut port was set off by the ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse, killing more than 130 and injuring thousands.

‘Reroute imports’

The high risk should be “immediately removed”, particularly when the State Government has picked Visakhapatnam to be the administrative capital of Andhra Pradesh, a government official said.

Visakhapatnam has already seen a few tragic industrial mishaps over the past six months.

“The Defence Ministry and the Petroleum Ministry need to take up the issue with the Shipping Ministry and ban the import of ammonium nitrate through Visakhapatnam Port Trust. It should be allowed to be imported through some other port with fewer risks and which does not have naval ships, oil refinery, strategic crude storage tavern and less population in the vicinity to safeguard the country’s defence, population and resources,” the government official added.

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Published on August 10, 2020
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