By Dumisani Sigogo
Mozambican port authorities on Thursday denied any knowledge of the Beira destined ship which carried the explosive ammonium nitrate that killed more than 130 people and wounded over 5,000 in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday.
Proesters in Beirut have called for government’s resignation over the disaster and the authorities said they have arrested 16 people as part of a probe into the deadly blast.
The lethal 2,750-ton consignment that decimated much of Beirut was originally destined to be shipped to Beira, Mozambique in 2013. Media reports indicate that the cargo of ammonium nitrate said to have caused the devastating explosion in Beirut, had been ordered by the Fabrica de Explosivos de Mozambique, (FEM) a company which manufactures commercial explosives.
Onboard a Moldovan-flagged ship, the Rhosus, sailing from Georgia and bound for the central port city of Beira the cargo ended up being confiscated and stockpiled in a dilapidated warehouse in Beirut after the ship floated into technically and financially troubled waters.
The Mozambican Ministry of Transport and Communications said there were never informed about a vessel with these characteristics that year. The state port authority also said in a statement that Cornelder, the managing operator was not aware that the vessel MV Rhosus was supposed to dock at the port of Beira.
Cornelder, concessionaire of the Port of Beira since 1998, said before a ship arrives at the port, it is announced by the ship’s agent to the port operator seven to 15 days in advance.
“Normally, before receiving a ship, we are notified. In this case, we never received any notifications from a ship coming to the port of Beira with these characteristics and cargo,” said Antonio Libombo, the Deputy Executive Director of Cornelder.
One of the sources from the port authority who asked not to be named told AFP that: “Although the destination of the ship was the port of Beira, the final destination of the cargo was not Mozambique but Zimbabwe or Zambia, because ammonium nitrate is used to manufacture explosive materials used in the mining industry”.
According to Boris Prokoshev, the ex-sea captain who skippered the ship said his ship, the Rhosus, was not supposed to be in Lebanon at all and that when it set sail from the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi, the already financially and mechanically distressed ship was bound for the Mozambican port of Beira.
Baroudi and Partners, a Lebanese law firm representing the ship’s crew, issued a statement that claimed the Russian businessman living in Cyprus, Igor Grechushkin, who was reportedly paid US$1-million by the International Bank of Mozambique to ship the ammonium nitrate to Beira, couldn’t afford to pay for the passage of the Rhosus through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean to reach Mozambique. It is reported that he diverted the ship to Beirut to pick up heavy machinery to earn extra cash to pay for the voyage. But the machinery proved too heavy for the Rhosus and the crew refused to load it on board.
This led to a series of disputes including a mutiny by the crew over Grechushkin’s failure to pay them, his failure to pay for; docking and other port fees, supplies to the ship and about the seaworthiness of the very old vessel which had a leak.
The Lebanese authorities then confiscated the Rhosus with its explosive cargo and some months later, the ammonium nitrate was transferred to a rundown warehouse in the port and the ship never left the port and eventually sank sometime later because of damages.
Prokoshev, the ex-skipper of the ship blamed Lebanese authorities for blast arguing that they were very well aware of the dangers posed by the vessel’s almost 3,000 tonnes high-density ammonium nitrate a combustible material used to make fertilizers and bombs.
“It’s the government of Lebanon that brought about this situation,” Prokoshev told the AFP from his home in the Krasnodar region of Russia.
Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique, also operates in Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi.