Rhosus entered the port of Beirut on November 21, 2013 and never left it again, the former capitan of the vessel Boris Prokoshev said in an interview to Russian media “Siberia. Realia”, reminiscent of his hostage experience, while administration of the port banned him and a part of his crew to leave Lebanon, until the fee to port would be paid by the ship owner.
“I wrote to Putin every month. I wrote that our condition is worse than that of the prisoners. The prisoner knows when he will be released, but we did not know when we would be released! And would we be released at all! The answer was a formal reply: your appeal was sent to the Foreign Ministry. The [Russian] consulate told me: what do you want? Putin to send special forces to release you from here by force? They could hire a lawyer, sue. But they did nothing. As a result, we sold the fuel ourselves and hired a lawyer. He filed a lawsuit against the Lebanese authorities, because they had no right to keep us, moreover our contracts have already ended. And through the court we were allowed to leave” Prokoshev said, sharing his memeories about his unfortunate work at Rhosus, which carried fertilises to Beirut port.
The last time the ship transmitted the signal was on August 7, 2014 – 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 vessel did not interfere with traffic, the newspaper writes.
One of the possible causes of Beirut blasts is said to be welding in the warehouse where the explosive cargo was stored. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has underlined that three versions of the incident are being considered: an accident, negligence of officials and external interference. Aoun did not rule out a bomb or rocket attack.
Ammonium nitrate, stored in the port of Beirut exploded on August 4, could not detonate on its own – for this, an external influence was necessary, the former captain of the vessel Prokoshev said, from whose ship an 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,” Boris Prokoshev explained. According to him, the ammonium nitrate had double package – an airtight 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.
In an interview with “Siberia. Realia” the captain said that he was hired at the moment when the Russian Igor Grechushkin bought it. According to the sailor, in 2013 the crew was sent to Batumi for a cargo of mineral fertilizers for delivery to Mozambique, but during the voyage the ship owner demanded to navigate to Lebanon and take an additional cargo of equipment of heavy machinery. It was then in the port of Beirut that the problems occurred. The Beirut cargo appeared too heavvy to be loaded, and also the port fee was not paid. These two debts had created a legal problem for Rhosus to leave the port, because the administration was not willing to realise it untill the amount paid, the capitan explained.
According to the captain, it turned out that the shipowner did not pay for either food supplies or port dues, and also owed 4 months’ salary to the previous crew. The Beirut authorities have forbidden “Rosus” to leave the port until the payment of the debts, and the sailors were banned to leave the country, de facto becoming the hostages of the port administration.
«And we stuck there for 11 months!» Prokoshev said. «We were not paid».
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 underlined. The sailors were able to return home only a year later, selling part of the fuel and hiring a lawyer, who sued the Lebanese government for illegally retaining part of the crew. Three months later, the court decided to allow the sailors to repatriate.
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 damages 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 it. In this case, all debts would have been paid, and Rhosus would have been sold for scrap, but the owner refused.
Grechushkin at first seemed normal, the captan said. Later he learned that the previous crew of “Rosus” left due to non-payment of salaries. They did not tell him anything, explained the dismissal by the fact that we had to go to Mozambique, and this is far, they did not want to. Initailly the captain was glad to go so far as Mozambique: to earn more for long distance navigation.
Rhosus first anchored in Greece, ordered food and supplies for the long voyage, but suddenly Grechushkin refused to pay. He said he had no money. Then he demanded to navigate to Beirut to take extra cargo on deck and earn extra money. There the ship was arrested for non-payment of the port dues.
Part of the team was able to leave Lebanon, but they refused to release the capitan, the chief engineer, the third engineer and the boatswain. The Lebanese authorities simply didn’t want to pay anyone to guard the vessel, and the dangerous cargo.
“…We lived at Rosus for 11 months. Grechushkin did not pay us and did not even buy food, one might say, doomed us to hunger. The port sent us food” he said.
“Our situation was worse than that of the prisoners: they know when they will be released, but we did not. I am a Russian citizen and every month I wrote to Putin! But I only got meaningless replies. The Russian consulate did nothing for us. We ended up selling fuel from the ship and hiring a lawyer”, he added. Through the courts, he obtained the release from the Lebanese authorities.
After returning to Russia, the capitan tried to sue Grechushkin, but he was told to file a lawsuit at his place of residence. And at that time he was already living in Cyprus. Grechushkin owes to the capitan $60 000, the chief engineer – $50 000, the third engineer – around $20 000, the boatswain – about $10 000. Although the customers from Mozambique paid him a million dollars, according to the previous captain of the Rosus, the capitan continues, Grechushkin just decided to abandon the ship and pocket a million.
At first the capitan was not worried: “I thought that the customers would not leave the cargo, they only paid a million for the transportation. But they “showed no movement at all”.
After the departure of the second part of the crew, ammonium nitrate from “Rosus” was unloaded to a warehouse under the responsibility of the Lebanese Ministry of Transport. The capitan learned about this from sailors he knew who came to Beirut. And the ship sank two or three years ago. It had a small hole, it was necessary to periodically pump out water. And if there was no crew, there was no one to do it, the capitan continued his narrative.
Boris Prokoshev is convinced that the authorities themselves are to blame for yesterday’s explosion in Beirut. “There was no point in arresting this ship, it was necessary to get rid of it as soon as possible!” the capitan concluded.