The ammonium nitrate that the Lebanese authorities say caused the devastating explosion in Beirut on Tuesday was abandoned years ago in the port on board a Russian-owned ship that was not suitable for navigation, according to international media reports such as Al Jazeera or The Times.
The 2,750 tons of this chemical used for fertilizers arrived on a Moldovan-flagged Russian cargo ship named ‘Rhosus’ in 2013 and moved to a warehouse in the port area of the Lebanese capital. Specifically, The Times cites that the ship was owned by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman residing in Cyprus, “a Mediterranean paradise for Russian companies seeking low taxes and light regulation.”
The ship was heading from Georgia to Mozambique, but was forced to dock in Beirut after suffering technical problems in Beirut, according to the attorneys who provided legal assistance to the crew. However, according to Al Jazeera, the Lebanese authorities prohibited the ship from continuing to sail and the owners ended up abandoning it.
Four crew members were trapped on board due to immigration restrictions that prevented them from disembarking. Two members of Beoudut-based law firm Baroudi & Associates explain in a report on the 2015 case they eventually managed to obtain a judge’s permission for the sailors to return home after alleging “the imminent danger facing the crew given the dangerous nature of the cargo still stored in the ship’s holds.”
“Due to the risks associated” with the retention of ammonium nitrate on board the ship, the port authorities unloaded the material, the lawyers say. It was placed in Hangar 12 of the port, a large gray structure, as Al Jazeera describes.
According to the Arab channel, which has analyzed public files and documents published online, the Lebanese customs authorities have repeatedly warned of the danger of keeping the cargo in the port and asked for solutions without success. According to his information, months after the arrival of the ship in Beirut, on June 27, 2014, the then director of customs sent a letter addressed to a judge demanding a solution for the cargo.
At least five more letters were sent from customs over the next three years to ask for directions. As Al Jazeera collects, they proposed three options: export the ammonium nitrate, deliver it to the Lebanese army, or sell it to the Lebanese Explosives Company, a private company.
In 2016, a letter noted that there had been “no response” from judges to previous requests. “In view of the serious danger posed by keeping these goods in the hangar in unsuitable weather conditions, we reaffirm our request that the maritime agency be asked to immediately re-export these goods to preserve the safety of the port and those who work there, or to study the possibility of accepting the sale of this amount “to the Lebanese explosives company. But there was no reply. In October 2017, the new director of customs again wrote to a judge asking him to make a decision on this “dangerous” material.
Hours after the huge explosion that left more than a hundred dead and thousands injured, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Hasan Diab, assured that those responsible are going to “pay the price”, since “this catastrophe will not pass without responsibilities.” “The facts about this dangerous deposit that has been there since 2014 will be announced and I will not anticipate the investigations,” he said.
According to the Lebanese head of state, Michel Aoun, the prime minister has assured that he will not rest until he finds the person responsible and “apply the maximum punishment because it is not acceptable that a charge of ammonium nitrate weighing 2,750 tons has been in a warehouse without taking preventive measures, exposing the safety of citizens. “