- The Lebanese Custom Authority wrote series of letters from 2014 to 2017 pleading the government to re-export these explosive devices.
- The officials however ignored the warning.
- Seven years after, the offloaded 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate blasted the whole Beirut port, killing 100 Lebanese citizens, and injured 4,000 others.
Since 2014 to 2017, the former Lebanese Customs Authority chief Shafik Merhi issued series of letters to the Lebanese government sending some warning that a Russian “floating bomb” was lurking in Beirut’s docks. Six times of relentless warning, but the Lebanese government ignored his warning.
The Russian “floating bombs” were lurking for seven years–a long time for the Lebanese authorities to prevent this recent unfortunate and devastating blasts that killed 100 people and injured 4,000 others.
United States President Donald Trump accused the explosion as an attack to the Lebanese government, however the Beirut authorities said otherwise.
So what is really the real deal with this Russian “floating bomb”?
Seven years ago in September 2013, a Russian-owned cargo ship called Rhosus, was carrying a 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound used for fertilizers or high power explosives. If we will look back at our world history, it took less than 2 metric tons of ammonium nitrate to bomb the Oklahoma City in 1995.
Russian cargo was supposedly en route from Georgia to Mozambique when it called the Beirut port authorities with unclear reasons. The reports said that the call may be for supplies or due to some mechanical trouble.
When the ship docked and the authority inspected the cargo, the vessel was found with “numbers of deficiencies”. As a result, the cargo was not permitted to leave the Beirut dock and has been stranded there for seven years.
The Beirut authorities also detained the abandoned cargo’s crew, the Russian captain Boris Prokoshev, and three Ukranian cargo members Valert Lupol, 3rd mechanic Andrey Golovyoshkin, and boatswain Boris Musinchak.
Afterwards, the explosive ammonium was offloaded and stored in Hanger 12 in the port in 2014.
The Plea and Warning
A Russian maritime analyst Mikhail Voytenko warned the Lebanese government in July 2014 that the cargo ship was literally a “floating bomb.” He said in a report that the vessel’s owner abandoned the ship and its crew, while the Lebanese government failed to protect the deadly cargo.
Voytenko said in The Daily Beast interview:
“There are a lot of restrictions, regulations, and rules to stick to when talking about storing explosives like ammonium, but they just stored it in a warehouse and forgot about it”.
The detained crew issued appeal to the Lebanese authority to get out. Writing a plea to Russian and Ukrainian journalists, and even to a group that supports seamen.
Musinchak, one of the crew members, also wrote an email to diplomatic services of Ukraine and the Assol Seamen Aid Foundation.
“The shipowner abandoned the vessel. The cargo owner has ammonium nitrate in the hold,” he wrote.
” It is an explosive substance… This is how we live for free on a powder keg for 10 months,” he added.
The ships’ captain also accused that the lawyer who helped them to be freed was corrupt and not concerned about the danger of the ammonium nitrate. He claimed that the consignee did not “lift a finger” to get his vessel out of Beirut.
Rhosus was owned by a Russian citizen Igor Grechushkin. According to the stranded seamen, Grechushkin moved to Cyprus after the incident.
Warning and neglect
Merhi, the former chief of the Lebanese Customs Authority wrote a letter to the authorities on June 27, 2014 under the subject “urgent matters”. The Custom chief requested for help to secure the explosives.
The Lebanese government ignored the first letter.
He then wrote five more pleading letters on December 5, 2014; May 6, 2015; May 20, 2016; October 13, 2016; and October 27, 2017. Unfortunately, the warnings fell on deaf ears.
Merhi stated in his plea that:
“In view of the serious danger of keeping these goods in the hangar in unsuitable climatic conditions, we reaffirm our request to please request the marine agency to re-export these goods immediately to preserve the safety of the port and those working on it, or to look into agreeing to sell this amount”.
The new Lebanon’s prime minister Hassan Diab, who started the duty in January 2020, said that the devastation “could have been avoided”. He vowed that “all responsible for this catastrophe will pay a price”.
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