Photos show sunken ship that brought ammonium nitrate to Beirut – and never left

The MV Rhousus stopped at the Lebanese port in 2013 to pick up freight, but legal and technical difficulties led it to be detained and its explosive cargo impounded

Illustrative: A half-sunken cargo ship (Brazilian Navy via AP)
Illustrative: A half-sunken cargo ship (Brazilian Navy via AP)

Newly published photos show the sunken hull of a ship whose cargo of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate was responsible for the huge explosion that devastated Beirut last week.

The MV Rhosus, a Moldovan-flagged ship, arrived in Lebanon in November 2013 while sailing from Georgia and bound for Mozambique. It made the unscheduled detour to Beirut as the Russian shipowner was struggling with debts and hoped to earn some extra cash through picking up cargo in Lebanon.

But that additional cargo proved too heavy for the Rhosus and the crew refused to take it on. The Rhosus was soon impounded by the Lebanese authorities for failing to pay port fees, and reportedly for being unseaworthy, and never left the port again.

After the dangerous cargo was impounded and unloaded by Lebanese authorities and the crew returned to their homes, the ship remained docked at a quiet corner of the port for several years, before developing a major leak in February 2018 that caused it to sink, the New York Times reported, citing a study of satellite imagery.

The Times published photos of the wreckage of the Rhosus, which has not been moved from its submerged grave.

After the ship was held by Beirut authorities in late 2013, Captain Boris Prokoshev and three other crew members were forced to remain on board because of immigration restrictions.

Boris Prokoshev, former captain of the ship that delivered explosive chemicals to Beirut, outside Sochi, Russia, August 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirill Lemekh)

The former captain said Thursday they were stuck on the ship for 11 months, with food and other supplies running low.

He said Russian shipowner Igor Grechushkin abandoned them without paying their wages or the debt he owed to the port.

Prokoshev said the Beirut port supplied them with food out of pity.

At some point he sold some of the fuel and used the cash to hire lawyers, who got the crew released on compassionate grounds in 2014. The application to the court emphasized “the imminent danger the crew was facing given the ‘dangerous’ nature of the cargo,” the lawyers wrote in a 2015 article published by, a website providing information on ship arrests and releases.

The cargo was transferred to a port warehouse only after the crew disembarked and headed back to Ukraine in 2014, Prokoshev said.

It remained there ever since — until it detonated on Tuesday.

The blast has raised outrage in Lebanon against authorities who allowed the dangerous substance to be stored for years. Prokoshev sympathizes with them.

“It’s very bad that people died; they had nothing to do with it. And I realized that it’s the government of Lebanon that brought about this situation,” he said.

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