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Did a Ship Abandoned Six Years Ago Cause the Beirut Explosion?

In 2013, the Rhosus, a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship, was transporting ammonium nitrate from Georgia to Mozambique when it experienced mechanical problems and entered the port of Beirut, according to a 2015 note written by lawyers for the ship’s creditors. After inspection from port authorities, the ship was prohibited from sailing. At this point, the ship’s owner, Igor Grechushkin, a Cyprus-based Russian national, abandoned the ship and its cargo. The Rhosus’ Russian captain and four Ukrainian crew members were left on board with no pay, no way to get to shore due to immigration restrictions, sitting on top of a highly explosive cargo. “The vessel quickly ran out of stores, bunker [fuel] and provisions,” wrote the attorneys. In the meantime, “efforts to get in touch with the owners, charterers and cargo owners to obtain payment failed.”

After almost a year, a judge granted the crewmembers permission to disembark and return home. The lawyers wrote, “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. The vessel and cargo remain to date in port awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal.” Six years later, that cargo may have caused a catastrophe.

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