Boris Prokoshev, the captain of the Russian ship carrying the cargo of ammonium nitrate which was impounded in Beirut said he regularly sounded the alarm, years before it exploded and destroyed large parts of the city.
Prokoshev, who was at the helm of tanker Rhosus in 2013 when it had to make an emergency stop in Lebanon said he regularly wrote to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin in regards to the dangerous vessel after it was impounded.
70yrs old Prokoshev said Igor Grechushkin, the owner of the vessel and the ammonium on board, had ‘washed his hands’ of the vessel, leaving the crew and cargo stranded for months.
The crew were freed the following year and the ammonium placed in a warehouse where it sat for six years, until it was ignited by a fire earlier this week – causing a blast that has killed at least 137 people and wounded 5,000.
Prokoshev explained that the Rhosus was en route from Batumi, in Georgia, to Mozambique with its dangerous cargo when it had to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut due to trouble with its radar and engine.
The vessel spent more than a year in port, with Prokoshev and a handful of Ukrainian sailors aboard, as the Lebanese tried to extract fees and fines from Grechushkin.
In the wake of the explosion, Grechushkin appears to have gone into hiding amid reports that he is being hunted by the secret services in Cyprus where he resides.
‘The owner abandoned the cargo, ammonium nitrate. It is an explosive substance. And we were abandoned too.
He told Putin that he had been left in limbo with the explosive cargo by the Russian owner of the vessel.
He wrote: ‘Our condition is worse than prisoners. A prisoner knows when he will be released. We do not know.’
Eventually the crew were allowed to go home after they successfully mounted a legal challenge in Beirut claiming that they were being detained illegally.
Then the ammonium nitrate was ‘unloaded to the warehouse, under the responsibility of the (Lebanese) Ministry of Transport,’ said the captain.
Asked about this week’s explosion, he said the Lebanese authorities were responsible.
‘They are to blame. There was no point in arresting this ship. It was necessary to get rid of it as soon as possible,’ he added.
And given they kept the cargo, they should have used it as fertiliser rather than leave the unstable load in the port.
Our prayers are with the people of Beirut during these times. We also pray for the should of the departed in the bomb blast.
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