Lebanon seeks arrest of Russian ship captain and owner over Beirut explosion

Lebanon asks Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Russian captain and owner of ship that brought material that detonated at Beirut port.

Elad Benari ,

Aftermath of Beirut explosion
Aftermath of Beirut explosion

Lebanon has asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants for the Russian captain and owner of the ship that brought the explosive material that detonated at Beirut port in August, killing nearly 200 people, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing state media.

About two months after the explosion that injured thousands and ravaged the Lebanese capital, questions remain about why and how the cargo was abandoned in Beirut.

Authorities have blamed it on the huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, used for fertilizer but also for explosives, going up in flames after being stored in poor conditions at the port for years.

There have also been accusations of negligence against Lebanese authorities. Nearly 20 people have been detained in Lebanon after the blast including port and customs officials.

Lebanon's public prosecution asked Interpol to issue warrants to detain the owner and captain, state news agency NNA said on Thursday, without naming them.

Boris Prokoshev was captain of the Rhosus ship when it arrived in Beirut in 2013, and he had identified Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman in Cyprus, as the owner.

A security source and a judicial source said they were the two for whom Lebanon asked for arrest warrants on Thursday.

Russia's national Interpol bureau declined to comment.

While most Lebanese authorities say the explosion was triggered by a fire in a port warehouse, Lebanese President Michel Aoun has hinted that the blast may have been caused by a bomb or other “external interference.”

The Rhosus had loaded ammonium nitrate in Georgia, shipping records show, before making the unscheduled stop in Lebanon.

But it never left, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects.

Beirut port authorities impounded the vessel after it arrived in late 2013 due to outstanding debts, according to a state security report which Reuters revealed in August.

In 2014, the ship was deemed unseaworthy and its cargo was unloaded in October and warehoused in what was known as Hangar 12, the epicentre of the explosion.

The ship sank near the port's breakwater in February 2018, the report said.

A recent report said that Hezbollah received from Iran many supplies of ammonium nitrate.

The report cast doubt over the denial by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that his group had any connection to the blast in Beirut.