An investigation involving 10 news organisations (Daraj.com (Lebanon), ARIJ.NET (Jordan), Meduza (Russia), iStories (Russia), Der Spiegel (Germany), RISE Moldova, RISE Romania, Bivol (Bulgaria), ifact.ge (Georgia), aVerdade (Mozambique)) has alleged that bulk carrier Rhosus, the ship that was the original carrier of the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that sat in a Beirut warehouse for six years before it exploded on August 4th and caused widespread damage in the Lebanese capital, was owned by Cypriot shipping entrepreneur Charalambos Manoli.
The investigation found that Igor Grechushkin did not own the Rhosus but was merely leasing it through an offshore company registered in the Marshall Islands. Manoli has consistently denied that he was the owner and says that he has documentary roof of this.
The report – coordinated by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) – highlights the complex way the Rhosus, which was on charter to Russian national Igor Grechushkin, made its final voyage with 2,750 tonnes of explosive ammonia nitrate, before being stopped in Beirut and subsequently abandoned by its owner.
The investigation claimed that Manoli owned the ship through a company registered in Panama, but which received its mail in Bulgaria. The company was registered in Moldova.
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 alleges that, at the time of the final Rhosus voyage, Manoli was in debt to FBME, a Lebanese-owned bank that lost multiple licenses for alleged money laundering offences. At one stage, the Rhosus was offered up as collateral to the bank, the investigators claimed.
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.
The report claims that revelations also expose the particular dangers posed by the lack of transparency in the maritime shipping industry, according to Helen Sampson, the director of Cardiff University’s Seafarers International Research Centre. She said that the findings “highlight all the weaknesses of the [maritime shipping] system and how they can be exploited by those who want to exploit them”.
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, has 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.
Grechuskin, 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. OCCRP journalists found a 2012 document that, they claim, shows that Briarwood belonged to Manoli.
Manoli has repeatedly denied he owned the vessel at the time of its final voyage. He says that he sold it in May 2012.
“The ownership of the Rhosus, and the companies that ordered the nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate to be transported halfway around the world in a rickety ship, are obscured by layers of secrecy that have stymied journalists and officials at every turn. Even the Lebanese government does not appear to know who actually owned the ship,” reported Der Spiegel.
Manoli is the CEO and managing director of 2002-founded Limassol-headquartered shipmanager Acheon Akti Navigation. He was previously a ship surveyor.
OCCRP, founded in 2006, describes itself as ” an investigative reporting platform for a worldwide network of independent media centres and journalists”.