The 2,700 tons of fertilizer believed to have caused the explosion that devastated Beirut had been confiscated from a Russian businessman — who “abandoned” his cargo ship after an unscheduled stop, according to reports.
According to a report by the New York Post, officials revealed Tuesday that the blast that killed at least 100 — and left up to 300,000 homeless — appeared to have been sparked by ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse since it was confiscated in 2014.
There were repeated warnings to the dangers of storing it — including one that it could “blow up all of Beirut” — but “nothing was done,” official sources told Reuters, calling it “negligence.”
The timeline and size of the cargo suggest it was taken from the MV Rhosus, according to the Associated Press, as well as Lebanon’s LBCI, citing sources at a Supreme Defense Council meeting.
The Rhosus is owned by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian national who now lives in Cyprus, according to The Moscow Times.
It had been traveling from Georgia to Mozambique in 2013 when it experienced an apparent malfunction and made an unscheduled stop in Beirut, the reports said.
Grechushkin then declared bankruptcy — and “abandoned” the ship in Lebanon, leaving its crew stranded on the vessel for months before the ammonium nitrate could be offloaded, the Moscow Times said.
The ammonium nitrate had been stored in a warehouse in the port of Beirut since then, the outlet said.
“Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port’s warehouses,” lawyers involved in the case previously wrote, according to the AP.
“The vessel and cargo remain to date in port awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal,” the lawyers said in the 2015 article.
Grechushkin does not appear to have addressed the link, reports said.
It also remains unclear what conditions the ammonium nitrate had been stored in — or why tons of an explosive chemical compound had been left there for years, AP noted.
“It is negligence,” an official source told Reuters, adding that the storage safety issue had been before several committees and judges and “nothing was done” to issue an order to remove or dispose of the highly combustible material.
A fire had started at warehouse 9 of the port and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored, the official said.
Badri Daher, Director General of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI on Wednesday that customs had sent six documents to the judiciary warning that the material posed a danger.
“We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why,” Daher said.