How an unscheduled port visit led to Beirut blast

The chemicals that went up in flames in Beirut's deadliest peace-time explosion arrived in the Lebanese capital seven years ago on a leaky Russian-leased cargo ship.

According to its captain from 2013-14 Boris Prokoshev, it should never have stopped there.

The ship Rhosus was carrying 2,750 tonnes of the highly combustible chemical from Georgia to Mozambique when the owner told him to make an unscheduled stop in Lebanon to pick up extra cargo.

"They were being greedy", Prokoshev says.

But after failing to safely load the additional cargo, the ship never left the Beirut port.

It ended up embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute over port fees.

The captain and three crew spent 11 months on the ship while the legal dispute dragged on, without wages and with only limited supplies of food.

Months later, the ammonium nitrate was unloaded and put in a dock warehouse once the crew left the ship.

The abandoned Rhosus sank where she was moored in Beirut harbor, according to a May 2018 email from a lawyer to Prokoshev.

"If I knew what I know now - I would not board that ship. But I did not know that. And this was the decision I made."

Prokoshev identified the ship's owner as Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin.

Attempts to contact Grechushkin were unsuccessful.

A Cyprus police spokesman said an individual, whom he did not name, had been questioned at the request of Interpol Beirut in relation to the cargo.

The ammonium nitrate was sold by Georgian fertilizer maker Rustavi Azot.

The plant director, Levan Burdiladze told Reuters that he could not confirm whether the ammonium nitrate was produced there, since the company only took over 3 years ago.

He called the decision to store the material in Beirut port a quote "gross violation of safe storage measures."

Initial Lebanese investigations into what happened have pointed to inaction and negligence in the handling of the potentially dangerous chemical.

Beirut port officials who have overseen storage and security since 2014 are now under house arrest.