Beirut: The world has not still recovered from the shock of the shockwave that shattered the Lebanese capital. The massive explosion ripped through Beirut’s port killing more than 70 people and injuring 4,000. The blast, at 6:08 pm local time on Tuesday, was so powerful it was felt in Cyprus, 120 miles away. Sources say that the blast happened when 2,750 tonnes of highly reactive chemical ammonium nitrate that was stored in the Beirut port for six years in the warehouse exploded.
Meanwhile, several pointers have been made to an abandoned ship ‘Rhosus’ and some obscure dealings around this ship. The ammonium nitrate, that exploded on Tuesday, was unloaded from this ship 6 years ago on Beirut port. Rhosus is a Russian owned, Moldovan flagged vessel that has been abandoned on Beirut port, 6 years back. Shipping data showed that the Rhosus stopped in Beirut because it broke down on its way from Georgia to Mozambique, and that it has been in the waters off the Lebanese capital since 2014. Two shippers in Beirut could confirm this data.
The trail of the carnage its cargo caused, and the trading of accusations among Lebanese officials that followed, are hallmarks of the murky dealings that have engulfed trade in Lebanon since the civil war 45 years ago.
Lebanese officials say the Rhosus cargo of 2,750 tonnes was offloaded and sat in storage for years before igniting and devastating half of Beirut. The ammonium nitrate arrived as cargo on the ship Rhosus in 2014, Bloomberg reported, citing two letters issued by the director general of Lebanese Customs. For reasons that are unclear, dockworkers unloaded the chemical, which can be used to make fertilisers and explosives, and put it into storage.
The Beirut blast on Tuesday has turned all the government departments involved with the vessels to prove themselves clean and why their department is not involved in the disaster. This would unleash the mystery of the Rhosus dealings and all other dealings by various departments after 2013.
The head of the port, Hassan Koraytem, told the pro-government broadcaster OTV that the customs department and state security had sought for the material to be exported or removed, but that “nothing happened”. He said a court had ordered the cargo to be offloaded from the Rhosus, but he did not say why.
Lebanese law firm Baroudi & Associates said in 2015 that it was hired on behalf of “various creditors” who came forward with claims against the Rhosus. “Efforts to get in touch with the owners, charterers and cargo owners to obtain payment failed,” the 2015 article on Ship Arrested, a newsletter on maritime legal issues, stated.
It said that, upon inspection, the vessel was forbidden from sailing and shortly afterwards was abandoned by its owners, leading to various creditors coming forward with legal claims. “Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port’s warehouses,” it added.
Meanwhile, a Serbian press reported that the owner of the vessel was found to be a Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin, born in Khabarovsk.
Lebanese media showcased evidences for the repeated requests from Customs department that requested the cargo to be sold to Lebanese Explosives Company. This registered company has imported ammonium nitrate several times before to blast rocks for construction.
A large-scale Lebanese trader, who didn’t want to disclose his name, told that one potential player in the saga is missing among the trail of official documents and public pronouncements about the cargo of the Rhosus.
“Everyone has a share in the port. But nobody can move so much ammonium nitrate without getting the OK from Hezbollah,” he said. “This is how the system works”, he added.