Liberia: EPA Averts Danger at Port of Buchanan

The Ship MV EKMEN was escorted out of Liberian territorial waters.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with support from national security apparatus have averted an imminent danger at the Port of Buchanan by repatriating a consignment of 293 bags of contaminated ammonium nitrate to Turkey, its origin. 

“The EPA is happy to announce that after weeks of tireless engagements, the Ship MV EKMEN was escorted out of Liberian territorial waters,” the EPA said in a statement.  At departure time (18:00 hrs), the Ship contained 293 bags of contaminated ammonium nitrate. This rejected consignment is being repatriated to the country of origin, Turkey. The Agency remains committed to ensuring a safe, clean and healthy environment for all.”

The operation to rescue the Port of Buchanan came after the EPA has alerted the various national security apparatus about the presence of a mixture of AMMONIUM NITRATE and Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) at the port of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County on board vessel EKMEN.

It then alarmed that the mixture of the substances was very hazardous to human health and also posed great risk to the environment and needed the swift intervention of all relevant security apparatus.

However, the arlet by then failed to clarify whether Bea Mountain Mining and its supplier complied with all guidelines governing the importation, transport, and handling storage of such chemicals. 

Rather, it was based on confirmation notice the EPA received from Bea Mountain Mining Corporation (BMMC) following a communication sent from the Executive Director Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh after receiving cogent reports from the Agency’s field offices that a vessel docked at the port contained hazardous waste.

The chemical ammonium nitrate, which is highly explosive and could have destroyed almost the entire port city of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County — leaving ruins behind if the EPA had not acted soon.  The chemical is relatively safe if uncontaminated and stored properly but extremely dangerous if contaminated, mixed with fuel, or stored unsafely as the case with the EKMEN vessel when it docked at the port.

But the EPA, being aware of the threat the chemical poses, especially being stored near heavy fuel oil,  issued a security alert as a means of avoiding potential tragedies with devastating human and infrastructure loss, disturbing all functional aspects of affected communities.

Ammonium nitrate's impacts from careless handling are deadly as it happened in the Lebanese capital Beirut when a massive explosion caused by more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate improperly stored left the city widely damaged with the shocking aftermath of more than 135 deaths on August 4, 2020.

At high temperatures, ammonium nitrate can violently decompose on its own — creating gases including nitrogen oxides and water vapor that cause an explosion. If this happens, the resulting blast would produce enormous white and toxic dark brown fumes that could contaminate a large portion of the port city of Buchanan —containing hazardous nitric oxides (NOx). Only one or two breaths of the NOx stream can cause severe toxicity — since it is heavier than air, hence exposure can result in asphyxiation. 

The chemical can damage the respiratory system in several different ways: first, by its conversion into nitric and nitrous acids in the distal airways, damaging the alveolar structure.  Secondly, by causing oxidative stress through the generation of free radicals, which results in protein oxidation, lipid peroxidation, and cell membrane damage.  It also increases the risk of lung infections. 

The Port of Buchanan is located 272 kilometers southeast of Monrovia and is the second-largest sea port in Liberia. The harbor is protected by two breakwaters 1,890m and 590m long. Inside the basin, a 225-meter long ore loading quay is located adjacent to the commercial loading quay, providing a water depth of 10.5m below chart datum.

Adjacent to the loading quay, another waiting berth for ore carriers is available. On the inner side of the secondary breakwater, is a commercial quay, 334m long with an available water depth of 9.5m below chart datum. The access channel to the Port provides ships a water depth of 11.5m below chart datum and a channel width between the breakwaters of 210m. Shipping activities have increased because of the equipment handling agreement with UMARCO that has improved the Port’s handling capacity and efficiency. 

Meanwhile, the EPA has expressed its appreciation to the Coast Guard of the Armed Forces of Liberia for ensuring that the vessel left Liberia's waters and is now headed to the next Port of Call in Abidjan. 

Liberia is a party to the Basel Convention and European Union (EC) regulations 1013/2006 and 1418/2007 as amended by regulation (EC) 733/2014 and remains obligated to ensure all enforcement.