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Lebanon requests arrests of Russian owner and captain of Beirut blast ship

The Rhosus, a cargo ship sailing from Georgia and bound for Mozambique, is widely understood to have brought ammonium nitrate to Beirut in 2013

The Rhosus ship (Wikipedia, CC BY)
The Rhosus ship (Wikipedia, CC BY)

BEIRUT — Lebanon Thursday requested international arrest warrants for the owner and captain of a vessel that contained a shipment of fertilizer behind Beirut’s massive port blast, a judicial source said.

The explosion of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate on August 4 killed more than 190 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

The Rhosus, a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship sailing from Georgia and bound for Mozambique, is widely understood to have brought the material to Beirut in 2013.

The judge leading Lebanon’s probe into the case, Fadi Sawan, “issued two absentee arrest warrants for the owner of the Rhosus… as well as the ship’s captain,” the judicial source said.

The ship’s captain has been widely named as Boris Prokoshev, a Russian national.

Cypriot police in August questioned Igor Grechushkin, a Russian national initially described as the owner of the ship, but an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project named the ultimate owner as Charalambos Manoli, a Cypriot shipping magnate — a claim denied by Manoli.

A partial view of the devastated Beirut port is pictured from the nearby neighborhood of Mar Mikaehl on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive blast there shook the Lebanese capital. (Patrick BAZ / AFP)

The judge passed names “on to the public prosecution, who referred them on to Interpol and asked it to issue an international notice for their arrests,” the judicial source said.

It was not immediately clear why Lebanon sees the two individuals as liable for events that occurred long years after they last had contact with the ship and its cargo.

The call came after a Lebanese judicial and security delegation last month visited Cyprus to question the ship owner at his residence, the source added.

After it arrived in Lebanon, the Rhosus faced “technical problems,” and security officials said it was impounded after a Lebanese company filed a lawsuit against its owner.

Port authorities unloaded the ammonium nitrate and stored it in a run-down port warehouse with cracks in its walls, the officials said.

The Rhosus sank in Beirut port several years after it arrived.

Lebanon has rejected an international investigation into the country’s worst peace-time disaster, but its probe is being aided by foreign experts, including from the FBI and France.

It has so far arrested 25 people as part of the ongoing probe, including top port and customs officials.

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