The ship Rhosus entered the port of Beirut in 2013 on its way to Africa with 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
The ship was en route from the Georgian port of Batumi to Mozambique and belonged to Igor Grechushkin, a Russian citizen living in Cyprus.
Beirut port inspectors detained the ship due to serious violations of the operating rules and its cargo was later confiscated.
Boris Prokoshev, the ship’s captain at the time, recalls that while the ship was in the Mediterranean, the owner had been ordered to go to Beirut to pick up additional cargo.
“They were greedy,” the ship’s captain described.
In Beirut, the ship was to pick up road construction equipment and deliver it to Jordan, but then continue on to Africa.
However, the ship did not leave Beirut either. Initially, there were problems with loading the planned additional cargo, but later there were also disputes over unpaid port dues.
If the extra cargo had been loaded, the ship would have left Lebanon.
After the problems arose, Grechushkin actually left the ship in Beirut and did not pay the salaries of its crew to Russian and Ukrainian citizens.
In turn, a few months later the dangerous cargo was transhipped from the ship to the warehouse, where it has been stored for years. On Tuesday, during a welding operation, a fire broke out in the warehouse, which led to a devastating explosion.
The master and three crew members spent a total of 11 months in the port of Beirut. Nobody paid them a salary for this time, but their food supplies were limited.
When they left, ammonium nitrate from the ship was transhipped in a port area.
“The cargo was very explosive. It had a high concentration of ammonium nitrate,” the former captain described the dangerous cargo.
Reuters tried to contact shipowner Igor Grechushkin, but the effort has not been successful.
However, according to information available to the agency, the Cypriot police have spoken to Grechushkin at his home in Cyprus this week.
The consignment of ammonium nitrate in Lebanon was sold by the Georgian fertilizer producer Rustavi Azot and was to be delivered to the Mozambican explosives producer Fabrica de Explosivos.
Levan Burdiladze, head of Rustavi Azot, said that the decision of the port of Beirut to store dangerous goods for such a long time was a serious violation of the security procedure, because ammonium nitrate loses its useful properties in about six months.
Meanwhile, former Rhosus captain Prokoshev points out that in September 2013, when the ship entered the port of Beirut, it was seaworthy, but had various technical problems.
However, the captain remembers that the Beirut port officials did not pay special attention to the potentially dangerous cargo on board.
Prokoshev also points out that in May 2018 he received information that Rhosus had sunk. It happened in the port of Beirut – the place where the ship was moored.