MOSCOW/DUBAI/LONDON – In the murky story of how a cache of highly explosive ammonium nitrate ended up on the Beirut waterfront, one thing is clear -- no one has ever publicly come forward to claim it. There are many unanswered questions surrounding last week's huge, deadly blast in the Lebanese capital, but ownership should be among the easiest to resolve. Clear identification of ownership, especially of a cargo as dangerous as that carried by the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus when it sailed into Beirut seven years ago, is fundamental to shipping, the key to insuring it and settling disputes that often arise. But Reuters interviews and trawls for documents across 10 countries in search of the original ownership of this 2,750-ton consignment instead revealed an intricate tale of missing documentation, secrecy and a web of small, obscure companies that span the globe. "Goods were being transported from one country to another, and they ended up in a third country with nobody owning the goods. Why did they end up here?" said Ghassan Hasbani, a former Lebanese deputy prime minister and opposition figure.
Lebanon's government has blamed the huge blast that devastated parts of Beirut on the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the city's port. People have expressed anger and disbelief that such a large quantity of potentially explosive material was kept inside a warehouse without any safety measures for more than six years, so close to the centre of the city. The government has not named the source of the ammonium nitrate, but the same amount of the chemical arrived in Beirut in November 2013 on a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship, the MV Rhosus. The Russian-owned vessel set sail that September from Batumi, Georgia, heading to Biera, Mozambique. It was carrying 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which typically comes in the form of small pellets that are widely used as agricultural fertiliser but can also be mixed with fuel oil to make explosives for the mining and construction industries.
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.
BEIRUT – Initial investigations into the Beirut port blast indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material caused the explosion that killed more than 100 people, an official source familiar with the findings said. The prime minister and presidency have said that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures. "It is negligence," the official source said, adding that the issue on storing the material safely had come before several committees and judges and "nothing was done" to order the material be removed or disposed of, The source said a fire had started at port warehouse 9 on Tuesday and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored. Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the material six months ago warned it could "blow up all of Beirut" if not removed. Tuesday's explosion was the most powerful ever suffered by Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a deep financial crisis rooted in decades of corruption and economic mismanagement.
Lebanese authorities have taken into custody 16 people as part of an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse explosion that shook the capital, state news agency NNA reported. The Lebanese government has given an investigative committee four days to determine responsibility for the blast, Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe told French radio. French President Emmanuel Macron offered France's support for the Lebanese people on a visit to Beirut, but said crisis-hit Lebanon would "continue to sink" unless its leaders carry out reforms. Officials said the death toll from the explosion killing at least 157 people and injuring 5,000 others was expected to rise as search-and-rescue operations continued for missing people. As of Friday 08:15 GMT, at least 58,000 people have signed an online petition set up by Lebanese citizens on Wednesday to "place Lebanon under a French mandate for the next 10 years" "Lebanon's officials have clearly shown a total inability to secure and manage the country," the petition reads.