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HMS Enterprise, commanded by a Gibraltarian, heads to Beirut to survey port after devastating explosion

Undated handout photo showing the docks before and after the huge blast in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Tuesday. Photo: PA Media

A Royal Navy survey ship whose captain is from Gibraltar will sail to Beirut to survey the Lebanese capital’s port following a massive warehouse explosion that sent a devastating blast wave across the city, killing at least 135 and injuring thousands.

The cutting edge vessel HMS Enterprise, commanded by Commander Cecil Ladislaus, will carry out survey work in the port to establish the extent of the damage and help reopen critical infrastructure.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “At the request of the Lebanese government, I have today authorised the sending of HMS Enterprise to help survey the Port of Beirut, assessing the damage and supporting the Lebanese government and people rebuild this vital piece of national infrastructure.”

The UK has also offered medical and search and rescue experts to help deal with the aftermath, alongside a package of humanitarian assistance worth up to £5 million.

The powerful blast in port warehouses near central Beirut storing highly explosive material sent seismic shockwaves that shattered windows, smashed masonry and shook the ground across the Lebanese capital.

Officials said they expected the death toll to rise further after Tuesday's blast as emergency workers dug through rubble to rescue people and remove the dead.

It was the most powerful explosion in years in Beirut, which is already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures, and said it was “unacceptable”.

The work to be conducted by HMS Enterprise will be vital in helping recovery in Lebanon, where Beirut is a key entry point for vital food imports.

Lebanon's main grain silo at Beirut port was destroyed in a blast, leaving the nation with less than a month's reserves of the grain but enough flour to avoid a crisis, the country’s economy minister said on Wednesday.

Raoul Nehme told Reuters a day after Tuesday's devastating explosion that Lebanon needed reserves for at least three months to ensure food security and was looking at other storage areas.

The explosion was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut, a city torn apart by civil war three decades ago. The economy was already in meltdown before the blast, slowing grain imports as the nation struggled to find hard currency for purchases.

"There is no bread or flour crisis," the minister said. "We have enough inventory and boats on their way to cover the needs of Lebanon on the long term."

He said grain reserves in Lebanon's remaining silos stood at "a bit less than a month" but said the destroyed silos had only held 15,000 tonnes of the grain at the time, much less than capacity which one official put at 120,000 tonnes.

Beirut's port district was a mangled wreck, disabling the main entry point for imports to feed a nation of more than six million people.

Ahmed Tamer, the director of Tripoli port, Lebanon's second biggest facility, said his port did not have grain storage but cargoes could be taken to warehouses 2 km (about one mile) away.

Alongside Tripoli, the ports of Saida, Selaata and Jiyeh were also equipped to handle grain, the economy minister said.

"We fear there will be a huge supply chain problem, unless there is an international consensus to save us," said Hani Bohsali, head of the importers' syndicate.

The Lebanese government has put an unspecified number of Beirut port officials under house arrest pending an investigation into how 2,750 tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate came to be stored at the port for years.

PA and Reuters contributed to this article.

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