Ammonium nitrate, stored in the port of Beirut and exploded on August 4, could not detonate on its own – for this, an external influence was necessary, said RBK former captain of the ship Rhosus, from which explosive cargo was confiscated six years ago.
“There was some external reason. Maybe a spark, maybe arson, an explosive device. There was some kind of external detonator,” explained former captain Boris Prokoshev. According to him, the saltpeter was in two bags – a sealed polyethylene bag and one more dense. “Air and water did not enter there. Each bag weighed a ton, there were 2,750 bags,” Prokoshev said.
Dry cargo ship Rhosus en route from the Georgian port of Batumi to Mozambique in 2013. On the way, the captain decided to enter the port of Beirut, but after the vessel arrived there, the authorities checked and detained him, and later confiscated the cargo of ammonium nitrate. After the ship was detained, some of the sailors were able to return home, and some – the captain, chief engineer, third engineer and boatswain – remained on the ship.
According to Prokoshev, the Lebanese authorities did not allow the remaining sailors to leave the country and the port territory, “so that the cargo would be looked after, the ship for free.” As a result, the sailors had to live on a steamer, food and necessary things were delivered to them by a Lebanese agent hired by the owner of the ship. They call them a Russian Igor Grechushkinwho now lives in Cyprus. According to Prokoshev, Grechushkin abandoned the ship, but he was obliged to maintain the crew.
The sailors tried to go on strike and organize a hunger strike, but “there is no point in starving on the ship, only to die,” the former captain noted. The sailors were able to return home only a year later, selling part of the fuel and hiring a lawyer with the proceeds, who sued the Lebanese government for illegally retaining part of the crew. Three months later, the court decided to send the sailors home.
According to Prokoshev, the saltpeter was unloaded from the vessel after the crew left. At the same time, the sailors were left without the due salary. According to the captain’s calculations, he is owed more than $ 200,000, including a penalty for detention in Beirut. Back in 2014, Prokoshev complained to the seamen’s union in Novorossiysk about the problems of the Rhosus crew. The complaint stated that the owner of the vessel could not sell it and pay off the sailors because of the dangerous cargo on board. The captain noted that the owner of the ship was offered to abandon the ship. In this case, all debts would have been paid, and Rhosus would have been scrapped, but the owner balked.
Meanwhile the newspaper The New York Times found out that the ship sank in the port of Beirut back in 2018 and its wreck, according to satellite images, is still about 500 meters from the explosion site.
The cargo ship #Rhosus brought 2,750 bags of ammonium nitrate to the port of #Beirut in 2013. I tracked what happened next. The story ends with a massive explosion – and a hidden ship. ?ﾸﾏ? @maxarhttps://t.co/4mzLiQZDXo pic.twitter.com/2mjPDA9z48– Christoph Koettl (@ckoettl) August 7, 2020
The ammonium nitrate that blew up in Beirut was left by M/V RHOSUS, an ailing ship whose fate was unclear. Until now. @ckoettl found out that it sank in early 2018, and has been submerged a mere 1,500 feet away from the warehouse that exploded. Read/watch: https://t.co/MiVRu3g32k pic.twitter.com/pvt6CWlovf– Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) August 7, 2020
Rhosus entered the port of Beirut on November 21, 2013 and never left it again. The last time the ship transmitted the signal was on August 7, 2014 – in the same month the crew left it. The Lebanese authorities moved the cargo from the ship to a warehouse in the port, and in 2015 Rhosus was towed about 300 meters further. In February 2018, due to leaks, the ship sank in a few days. The Beirut authorities did not do anything with it, the remains of the ship did not interfere with traffic, the newspaper writes.
According to the latest data, as a result of the explosion of saltpeter on August 4, more than 150 people died, about 6 thousand were injured. The port of Beirut was almost completely destroyed, the blast wave led to large-scale destruction in the city. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. A group of specialists sent to Beirut to investigate the causes of the explosion Interpol.
One of the possible causes of the explosion is said to be welding in the warehouse where the saltpeter was stored. Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that three versions of the incident are being considered: an accident, the negligence of officials and external interference. Aoun did not rule out a bomb or rocket hit.