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WATCH: Tianjin – Port disaster of the decade?

PortandTerminal.com, December 22, 2019

TIANJIN, CHINA – On August 12, 2015, chemicals exploded at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin killing 173 people and caused so much damage that it could be seen from space. 

A video filmed by a stunned eyewitness, Dan Van Duren, captured the moment successive huge blasts tore through the industrial area at the port.

WARNING: this video contains explicit language

What caused the disaster?

Scenes of debris and damaged shipping containers following a massive explosion at the Port of Tianjin. Bulldozer in the foreground clearing up debris.

Investigators found that the blast was triggered when stocks of nitrocellulose, a flammable compound used as a binding agent with medical applications and as an ingredient of lacquer, became too dry and caught fire in the August heat.

The flames then spread to illegal stores of the combustible fertilizer ammonium nitrate, triggering a series of blasts that flattened the warehouse, destroyed an adjacent auto lot and caused extensive damage to neighbouring apartment blocks. Ammonium nitrate was what Timothy McVeigh used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.

The dead in the Tianjin disaster included 99 firefighters and 11 police officers, who were not informed of the presence of the 800 tons of ammonium nitrate. Another 798 people were injured, largely because the company behind the explosion illegally built its warehouse too close to their apartments.


A prisoner wearing a blue fleece jacket is escorted by uniformed, Chinese officials in a court.
Chinese courts gave Yu Xuewei, the head of the company behind the disaster, a suspended death sentence

Investigators found that Ruihai, the operator of the warehouse where the explosion occurred, illegally stored hazardous materials and that its “safety management procedures were inept.”

Chinese courts gave Yu Xuewei, the head of Ruihai, a suspended death sentence finding that he paid bribes to obtain permission to illegally store more than 49,000 tons of sodium cyanide and other highly toxic chemicals at the company’s warehouse in the city’s port.

It also assigned varying degrees of blame to 74 government officials from agencies at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Some officials, investigators found, were guilty of “taking bribes and abusing power.”

Watch Tianjin Port explosion as seen from space

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