Maritime shipping’s industry and legal chicanery are to blame for Beirut’s Blast; two cos. did not respond
On 4th August 2020, a devastating explosion occurred at Beirut City’s port. 154 are believed to be killed, dozens are still missing, 5000 have been injured and 300,000 left homeless. The explosion was caused by 2,700 tonnes of “ammonium nitrate”; a chemical that has multiple uses, including in agriculture and construction, but is known hazardous material.
An investigation by the Guardian suggests that the explosion may be linked to a network of “maritime capital and legal chicanery” that is designed to shield companies in the maritime industry. The investigation refers to one of the practices used by business in the maritime industry; the “Flag of Convenience”, under which ship’s owners register their ships in a different country. This practice provides businesses with a means to sail ships with low safety standards, pay low wages and taxes and avoid financial charges and labour regulations in the country of ownerships.
Allegations have been raised in international media that a Moldova-flagged cargo ship “MV Rhosus” owned by a Russian businessman (Igor Grechushkin) and registered to a company in Bulgaria is suspected of bringing the 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to Beirut in September 2013, where it was impounded. The MV Rohsus was forced by its owner to dock in Beirut to carry more cargo, while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique. The ship was inspected by the Lebanese authorities and banned for leaving the port due to technical issues as well as for breaching International Maritime Organization standards and failing to pay charges including port fees. Afterwards, Rohsus was abandoned by its owner and its cargo transferred to warehouse 12 at the port. The crew members left aboard the MV Rohsus for about a year with the explosive cargo without any wages, or access to electronic communications and with decreasing food provision. The captain managed to sell some of the ship’s fuel and used the money to hire lawyers. Ultimately, a Lebanese judge ordered the release of the crew on humanitarian grounds in August 2014. The owner was further facing allegations of withholding wages from a pervious crew of the ship as well. New York Times tried to reach Mr. Grechushkin for a comment without success.
Moldovan company; Geoship Company SRL, acted for the foreign owner in the registration process of MV Rhosus. Geoship is owned by Cypriot citizen Manoli Charalambos, the director of Acheon Akti Navigation from Limassol in Cyprus, according to the Moldovan company register. We were unable to find any information about the said company. Balkan Insight repeatedly tried to contact Charalambos for a comment without any success.
The cargo of 2,700 tones of ammonium nitrate was allegedly purchased by the International Bank of Mozambique for a Mozambican company Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique which makes commercial explosives. However, the company forsook the cargo which caused the devastation.
The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre contacted International Bank of Mozambique and Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique for a response to these allegations; they did not respond.