Beirut explosion: 2013 legal note confirms tanker offloaded ammonium nitrate in port

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Explosive material that may have been the cause of the devastating blast in Beirut on Tuesday had been stored in the port since 2013 after a tanker was impounded there, according to a verified legal note circulating online.

Authorities have pointed to large quantities of the highly explosive ammonium nitrate as the cause of the massive blast that killed over 135 people and injured thousands in Lebanon's capital on Tuesday, but observers have asked where this material came from and why it was being stored in such large quantities so close to densely populated central Beirut.

Read more: Blame game for Beirut blasts begins among Lebanon officials

Based on a verified legal note from a Lebanese law firm, one theory has emerged that the blast was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that was offloaded by a Moldovan-flagged tanker in 2013 and had been kept in the port ever since.

Lebanese law firm Baroudi & Associates drafted the note after issuing three arrest orders against the Rhosus tanker, which was impounded by Lebanese authorities in November 2013 and subsequently offloaded the ammonium nitrate in Beirut port.

The letter, dated sometime in 2015 and posted online by two lawyers from the firm acting on behalf of “various creditors,” detailed what happened to the Rhosus after its Ukrainian crew and Russian owner abandoned the vessel off Beirut.

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“On 23/9/2013, m/v Rhosus, flying the Moldovian flag, sailed from BatumiPort, Georgia heading to Biera in Mozambique carrying 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in bulk. En route, the vessel faced technical problems forcing the Master to enter Beirut Port. Upon inspection of the vessel by Port State Control, the vessel was forbidden from sailing. Most crew except the Master and four crew members were repatriated and shortly afterwards the vessel was abandoned by her owners after charterers and cargo concern lost interest in the cargo. The vessel quickly ran out of stores, bunker and provisions,” read the legal note published by the lawyers identified as Charbel Dagher and Christine Maksoud.

The legal note in question has been verified by Al Arabiya English after its initial publication in a newsletter published in October 2015 by ShipArrested.com, a website that identifies itself as an extensive network that facilitates the fast and efficient arrest or release of ships with coverage in over 1,000 ports around the globe.

“Various creditors came forward with claims against her. Our firm acting on instruction of these creditors obtained three arrest orders against the vessel. Efforts to get in touch with the owners, charterers and cargo owners to obtain payment failed,” both Dagher and Maksoud said in their legal note after the ship was impounded by authorities.

A heatmap of the “Rhosus” cargo vessel that reportedly offloaded the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut Port in 2013 showed its past routes across the several countries in the Mediterranean prior to its abandonment in the Lebanese capital a year later, according to ship tracking service Marine Traffic.

According to the legal note, both Lebanese lawyers Dagher and Maksoud attested that Beirut port authorities had discharged the cargo of ammonium nitrate onto the port's warehouses.

“The vessel and cargo remain to date in port awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal,” Dagher and Maksoud wrote in the conclusion of the letter released in 2015.

Al Arabiya English could not independently verify whether the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that was offloaded by the Rhosus in 2013 or 2014 was behind the devastating explosions on Tuesday at Beirut port from hanger 12.

According to information provided by Marine Traffic, the last recorded location of the Rhosus was located at Mediterranean at position 33° 54' 18.036" N, 35° 30' 55.512" E as more than six years ago on August 7, 2014. The GPS coordinates placed the Rhosus docked exactly opposite the hanger which exploded on Tuesday at Beirut port.

While the Rhosus sailed under the Moldovan flag, it was actually owned by a Russian man named by Igor Grechushkin and was manned by a crew of both Russians and Ukrainians. According to an investigation by the Globe and Mail newspaper, Grechushkin’s known address was placed in Cyprus. The Siberian Times, Grechushkin still lives in Limassol, Cyprus, with the newspaper posting reportedly exclusive images of him.

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