Further details on the history of the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded in the Port of Beirut last Tuesday August 4th, and of the cargo ship that brought it to Beirut, have been uncovered by the New York Times. It has been revealed that the Rhosus did not sink until 2018, and it did so just a short distance from where its cargo exploded last week.
Cargo ship Rhosus (its then IMO, 8630344) left Batumi, Georgia, in September 2013 with a cargo of ammonium nitrate destined for Mozambique. However, because of financial pressures the captain was told to take a detour to Beirut to pick up some additional freight. Captain Prokoshev said they needed to make extra cash to pay for their passage through the Suez Canal. Lawyers for the ship’s creditors said the additional cargo was supposed to be transported to Jordan.
The captain has since said that the Rhosus could not take the additional weight of the extra cargo and began to buckle, cusing him to refuse the load. Port authorities impounded the vessel. Because of the known “dangerous state” of the cargo, most of the crew were repatriated, but the captain and some of his crew were ordered to stay on board. They later claimed that they were being “held hostage” until the port fees were paid.
The ship’s transponder sent its last position on August 7th 2014, the same month the last of the crew was released. The Rhosus was left abandoned and Lebanese authorities transferred its cargo to a warehouse in the port. In 2015, the ship was moved 300 metres up the pier, where it remained for about three years. Satellite images show a ship matching the dimensions of the Rhosus, with open cargo bays, indicating it is empty.
The Rhosus was leaking badly and began sinking in February 2018. Within days, the ship was fully submerged. Stephen Wood, a satellite image expert at space technology company Maxar, analyzed an image from February 18th 2018, for The New York Times. He used multi-spectral imagery that can penetrate water and better reveal submerged objects and features. The resulting image shows the ship in great detail, despite being underwater.
Authorities never removed the shipwreck on the northern edge of the port, where it did not seem to obstruct ship traffic, and where it would probably still be lying, forgotten, had its one-time cargo not brought devastation to Beirut.