The controversy surrounding the background to last month’s explosion in the port of Beirut took another turn yesterday with a statement by shipping entrepreneur Charalambos Manoli stating that any relationship that he had with bulk carrier Rhosus, the vessel which brought the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to Beirut ended in June 2012.
The background (for fuller details see IMN, August 25th 2020) is as follows.
Rhosus set sail from Georgia to Mozambique in September 2013, but was diverted to Beirut en route to pick up some extra cargo. However, the captain noted that this was overloading the vessel.
Rhosus was inspected by Port State Control officers, who found “deficiencies”, and banned it from sailing. That left the Rhosus stranded in Beirut.
The majority of the ship’s Ukrainian crew were repatriated on the grounds that they were in “imminent danger” due to the explosive nature of the cargo on board.
The cargo was unloaded to a warehouse. The few remaining crew eventually left. The boat was towed to another part of the port and eventually sank (and forgotten about until the explosion that killed just under 200 people, injured many more, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage).
A subsequent multi-news-organization investigation alleged that Manoli was the owner of the Rhosus.
The investigation claimed that Manoli owned the ship through a company registered in Panama, but which received its mail in Bulgaria.
The investigators said that Manoli worked through another of his companies, Geoship, an officially recognized firm that sets foreign owners up with Moldovan flags. Another Manoli-owned company, based in Georgia, certified the ship as seaworthy, OCCRP said.
The report alleged that, at the time of the final Rhosus voyage, Manoli was in debt to FBME, a Lebanese-owned bank that lost multiple licences for alleged money-laundering offences. At one stage, the Rhosus was offered up as collateral to the bank, the investigators claimed. Manoli has now denied that this was the case (see statement, below) on the grounds that the debt was paid and that the dispute was over whether further monies were owed. Manli noted that some years later a court found in his favour on this matter. Therefore he could not have offered up the Rhosus as collateral.
The ultimate customer for the ammonium nitrate on the ship, an explosives factory in Mozambique, never tried to claim the abandoned material and said that it had never paid for it.
The intermediary for the shipment was UK-based Savaro Ltd, a company that was dormant at the time. In 2015 it persuaded a Lebanese judge to have the ammonium nitrate tested for quality, with the intent of claiming it. The stockpile was found to be in poor condition, and the company did not try to take back the ammonium nitrate.
Igor Grechushkin is a 43-year-old Russian citizen living in Cyprus, Grechushkin has been repeatedly identified as the owner of the Rhosus. He has declined all attempts by OCCRP and other outlets to speak to him, although on August 6th he was interviewed by Cypriot police at the request of Lebanese authorities. Grechushkin, said OCCRP, had a history of acting as a corporate officer in companies run by others. While OCCRP’s investigation shows that Grechushkin didn’t own the Rhosus, he was involved in much of the vessel’s direct operation. The ship’s captain at the time of its last journey has said that Grechushkin personally ordered him to dock the Rhosus in Beirut on its way to Mozambique.
Grechushkin, via a company in the Marshall Islands called Teto Shipping, had chartered the ship from a company in Panama, Briarwood Corporation, according to official records from Moldova’s Naval Agency seen by IMN. OCCRP journalists found a 2012 document that they claimed showed that Briarwood belonged to Manoli.
Manoli has repeatedly denied he owned the vessel at the time of its final voyage.
Manoli is the CEO and managing director of 2002-founded Limassol-headquartered shipmanager Acheon Akti Navigation. He was previously a ship surveyor.
Manoli has responded as follows:
He said that it was expected that the devastating event in Lebanon on August 4th 2020 would continue to concern the international media He expressed his “deepest sorrow for the loss of so many of our fellow human beings and my undying sympathy for their families. There were also a great many people injured in the explosion, and my thoughts are also with them and their families”.
Manoli went on to say that there had been a number of unfounded reports which had created an inaccurate and defamatory image of him and his activities in relation to himself personally and/or his professional activities and the Rhosus.
“With my only motive that of restoring the truth, I must state categorically that what has come to light in recent days regarding me is entirely inaccurate”, he said.
His statement continued (italicized)
“A company of interest was the owner of the ship, Rhosus, from 2010 until May 28th 2012.
“Teto Shipping Ltd (Teto) of the Marshall Islands was granted the usufructuary right (editor’s note – one who has the use and profit, but not the property, of a good) of the ship in question on the basis of a bareboat charter agreement dated May 22nd 2012 (filed in the Competent Register on May 28th 2012.
“This agreement granted Teto the right to acquire ownership of the ship in question at its expiry, as it happened.
“Any relationship with the ship Rhosus on my part ceased to exist as of June 2012, as is apparent from the Ship Continuous Synopsis Record issued by the country where the vessel was registered.
“In the course of my business activities, a company of interest had been established to lend on the purchase of the ship Shakalin, and an agreement was signed with FBME bank on October 4th 2011.
“This loan was terminated by FBME in January 2012, just three months after the acquisition of the ship Shakalin. FBME took possession of the ship Shakalin by exercising a right granted to it as a mortgage lender.
“At the same time, in an action registered in the Limassol District Court, FBME proceeded to court against the owner of the ship Shakalin and against me personally as guarantor of the loan.
“This was followed by the sale of the ship Shakalin in an auction held in Hong Kong. Despite the fact that the claim on the whole amount of the loan had been settled by overpayment, FBME claimed further interest and costs, alleging that those had accrued after the sale of the ship.
“In a decision of May 2nd 2018 the Limassol District Court found against FBME and rejected FBME’s claim for costs; these costs have not yet been paid.”
Maloni concluded therefore that “the above facts disprove any connection or interconnection alleged between me and the Rhosus vessel at the material time, as well as the fallacious claims that any action on my part has been in service of any interests of FBME. Again, our prayers are for the victims of this terrible tragedy.”
Other documents supplied to IMN by Manoli include a Moldovan document dated June 21st 2012 that indicates the owner to be Briarwood Corp of Panama (see above) and that the registered bareboat charterer was Teto Shipping Ltd of “Trust Company Complex” in the Marshall Islands. However, the name of Charalambos Maloni does not appear on this document.
The key to the matter appears to remain the establishing of the names of the beneficial owners of Briarwood Corp and Teto Shipping Ltd.