Flour and barley on ship docked in Lebanon not stolen from Ukraine, importer says

Lebanon appeared on Friday July 29th to reject claims by the Ukrainian Embassy in Beirut that Syrian ship Laodicea (IMO 9274343), which had docked in the Lebanese port of Tripoli on Wednesday July 27th, was carrying Ukrainian grain stolen by Russia, following an inspection by Lebanese customs officials.

A senior Lebanese customs official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to talk to the media, told Associated Press that the papers of the cargo of the Laodicea were in order.

However, a Lebanese judge on Friday ordered the seizure of the ship. The Laodicea is Syrian and is subject to US sanctions. The cargo is owned by Loyal Agro, a grains trading company in Turkey, which said it had provided Lebanese customs with documentation showing the source of the cargo was legitimate.

A Loyal Agro spokesman said the cargo had initially been destined for Syria, but the company decided to offload 5,000 tons of flour in Lebanon because of bread shortages there. He said flour could be sold for up to $650 a ton in Lebanon, compared with $600 in Syria.

Lebanon used to import about 60% of its wheat from Ukraine.

The Laodicea was carrying 5,000 tons of flour and 5,000 tons of barley that Ukraine’s Embassy in Beirut said was stolen by Russia. After the embassy raised the alarm, Lebanese authorities initiated an investigation.

The Russian Embassy told Lebanese media that Ukraine’s claim was “baseless.”

Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Ostash warned Lebanese President Michel Aoun at a meeting on July 28th that buying stolen goods from Russia would harm bilateral relations. A Lebanese official confirmed that the issue had been raised during a Thursday meeting with Aoun. He noted Ukraine’s general concerns that Russia might try selling stolen Ukrainian wheat to a number of countries, including Lebanon.

“The ship has travelled from a Crimean port that is closed to international shipping, carrying 5,000 tonnes of barley and 5,000 tonnes of flour that we suspect was taken from Ukrainian stores,” the Ukrainian embassy to Lebanon stated, adding that this was “the first time a shipment of stolen grains and flour reaches Lebanon”.

Lebanon’s economy minister Amin Salam said that the country’s customs authority and its agriculture ministry were investigating the matter. Salam had said earlier on Thursday that severe bread shortages in Lebanon would soon be eased by new wheat imports, but did not say where they were coming from.

A customs official and shipping source told Reuters that Tripoli had not offloaded the ship because of suspicions that it was carrying stolen goods.

“Nothing was taken off the ship. As soon as we got the information, we stopped everything,” the customs official said.

A Lebanese Economy Ministry source told Arab News that “importing wheat or flour from abroad doesn’t require the approval of the ministry unless it was subsidized by the central bank. Other than that, private companies and mills have the right to freely import wheat or flour, provided that the Lebanese customs check the legitimacy of the importation.”

The Laodicea is one of a trio of ships owned by the Syrian port authority that Ukraine says have been transporting wheat plundered from stores in Ukrainian territory recently occupied by Russia.

All three ships have been sanctioned by the US since 2015.

Ukraine had resumed legal exports of wheat to Lebanon in mid-July, according to the Ukrainian embassy and the head of Lebanon’s mills association.

2005-built, Syria-flagged, 9,611 gt Laodicea is owned and managed by Syriamar of Latakia, Syria. As of July 31st it remained at the port of Tripoli, Lebanon.