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  • Writer's pictureCDR (ret.) Eyal Pinko, Ph.D.

Igor Grechushkin, ammonium nitrate and the mysterious explosion in Beirut

The mysterious explosion in the port of Beirut raises many theories and conspiracies as to the reasons that caused it, the truth may or may not be revealed, but it is probably too early to assess where the truth lies.

It will be recalled that the current announcement by the Lebanese government is that a large cargo of ammonium nitrate was stored in the port, which was unloaded from a merchant ship more than six years ago (November 2013). The ammonia charge left in the warehouse at the port ignited, according to the same announcement, as a result of welding work performed in the warehouse and without the ammonium being removed from it before the welding started. Last weekend, a new story appeared on the subject written by a journalist from Dubai.

According to the journalist, the ship’s captain, Boris Prokoshev, decided to break his silence, and in a phone call to the New York Times, decided to open his heart about the circumstances of the incident.

The journalist, Hussein Quaid, reported that the ship Roussos which had unloaded the ammonium cargo was a very old ship carrying the Moldovan flag, and was purchased by a Russian oligarch.

The Russian oligarch, Igor Grechushkin, who lives in Cyprus and owns a company in the Marshall Islands, chartered the merchant ship to transport about 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate to Mozambique.

Grechushkin, a native of the city of Khabarovsk, purchased the ship through his trading company in Cyprus, several months before setting off and even met twice with Captain Prokushev in Nicosia and Limassol to inspect the vessel and check its suitability for sailing.

Russia’s state communications authorities have confirmed that Grushushkin is the legal owner of the ship Roussos. The ship sailed with its crew from Cyprus to Georgia, where it loaded the ammonium, and set off in September 2013 from the port of Batumi, Georgia. From there, the ship was scheduled to reach its destination at the port of Beira in Mozambique. The ship planned to cross the Suez Canal on its way to Mozambique. The shipment was allegedly intended for Mozambique local arms industry to be used to produce explosives for the local mining industry.

For the mission, the ship’s crew was promised $ 1 million from Grechushkin. But with the crossing of the Turkish Bosporus straits, a financial dispute broke out between the captain and Grechushkin after the latter claimed that he could not transfer money for the required payment to the Egyptian authorities of the Suez Canal and even cannot pay the crew’s salary in the amount of about $ 200,000.

The ship was delayed in the port of Athens for about a month, while the captain tried to settle the financial issues. The Russian oligarch suggested that the captain sails to Beirut to load the ship with an additional cargo of machines, through which it would be possible to finance the passage in the Suez Canal and pay the crew’s salary.

About two months after going out to sea from Georgia, the ship arrived at the port of Beirut, where Captain Prokushev discovered that he would not be able to load the machines on the vessel. According to the captain, the problem with loading the machines was due to the dilapidated physical condition of the old ship and its inability to load the extra cargo (and perhaps even because of another technical malfunction).

From the port of Beirut, the captain tried to contact Grechushkin to receive money for refueling the ship and its supply, but the traces of the mysterious oligarch disappeared. And so, the ship remained stuck in the port of Beirut. Some of the ship’s crew returned home, but the captain and three other crew members from Ukraine were forced to remain in the port of Beirut until the ship’s financial debt is settled.

The captain and the limited crew remained in Beirut for many months, financing a local law firm, which worked to free them through the sale of assets from the ship, including its excess fuel. The law firm contacted the Lebanese authorities and warned that the ship’s cargo was dangerous and that it could explode.

After many months in which the crew suffered a disgrace of starvation and under pressure from the Russian and Ukrainian embassies, the ship’s crew released during 2014, and the dangerous cargo was moved for storage in Hangar 12 at the port.

The ship remained in Beirut and mysteriously sank about a year later in front of the port.

According to the Dubai journalist, the Reuters news agency examined the captain’s testimony and found that the ship stopped at the port of Beirut due to technical problems, and during 2016 and 2017 the customs authorities in Lebanon were asked to approve the sale of ammonium nitrate to get rid of the safety problem.

The journalist reported that the Russian oligarch Grushushkin was detained for questioning by the Cypriot police.

In open-source publications, the structure of ownership of the ship is not clear. According to network reports, a Cypriot company called Acheon Akti Navigation from Limassol belonging to a businessman named Manoli Charalambos purchased the vessel through a Moldovan company called Geoship Company SRL. The ship entered the port of Beirut in 2014 under the Moldovan flag. A company owned by Igor Groshushkin has not yet been found in Cyprus.

Is this a cover operation by Hezbollah and / or Iran to transfer the ammonium nitrate to Hezbollah?

Hezbollah has been trying for several years to get its hands on large amounts of ammonium. For example, it was published in May 2020 that the Israeli Mossad passed on information to the German intelligence service, the BND, about hundreds of kilograms of ammonium nitrate that were found in a warehouse in the south of the country. German authorities located the warehouse, raided it, and confiscated the ammonium.

In 2015, the British Daily Telegraph reported that the British security service raided four storage sites in the suburbs of London, which are associated with Hezbollah and where many tons of ammonium nitrate were found. The storage sites have been described by the Telegraph as secret bomb-making sites.

In May 2015, Hezbollah operatives were arrested in Cyprus by the local security service, and a tremendous amount of ammonium nitrate was found in their possession.

In August 2015, three people, associated with Hezbollah, were arrested in a warehouse in Kuwait, where about 130,000 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and another ton of explosives were found.

These efforts to obtain ammonium go hand in hand with Hezbollah’s missile precision project, which led together with Qassam Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

As part of the project, the various components of the Hezbollah rockets improved to make them more accurate and lethal. Among the upgraded components were the navigation system, integration of the guidance system, and the improvement of the engines and warheads.

Ammonium nitrate is used as a critical component in the production of propellant engines for rockets and missiles, with constant combustion and thrust.

Was the ammonium nitrate that arrived in Lebanon with the Russian ship and under the auspices of the mysterious oligarch destined for Hezbollah’s missile project? Or if Hezbollah knew about the existence of the ammonium, why was it not used? If so, it would be a wonder why the dangerous cargo was left in the port and not transferred to the secret and protected Hezbollah depots deployed in the country.

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