Captain May Face Extradition for Port of Beirut's Seizure of Cargo

Damage at the Port of Beirut after the blast. The circular basin at center right marks the location where the Rhosus' cargo was stored (courtesy Mehr News)

Published Jan 13, 2021 9:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a development all too familiar for mariners, the former captain of the freighter Rhosus has been flagged for extradition in connection with the blast caused by the vessel's final cargo - even though that cargo was seized by port officials seven years ago, the ship sank three years ago and the captain has long since retired.

Lebanese state news agency NNA reports that Interpol has issued a "red notice" for Capt. Boris Prokoshev, the master of the Rhosus, and for Russian national Igor Grechushkin, the ship's former owner. A red notice is issued at the request of a national government and calls on authorities in other nations to detain and hold the target individual for a possible extradition request. 

The Rhosus arrived in Beirut in 2013, carrying a cargo of 2,750 tonnes of explosives-grade ammonium nitrate. The call was a stop-over, and the cargo was intended for delivery to a mining company in Mozambique. However, the owner allegedly abandoned the crew and the ship over unpaid port fees, and suppliers filed suit to arrest and sell the vessel.

In 2014, "owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo [into] the port’s warehouses," according to Charbel Dagher and Christine Maksoud, two lawyers involved in the case. The Rhosus - aging and known to be leaking - was unloaded and left at a pier on the harbor's edge until February 2018, when she sank. 

Lebanese officials stored the cargo at the port's grain terminal in the central harbor until August 4, 2020, when it detonated. The blast ranked among the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and destroyed a large segment of Beirut's waterfront, killing more than 200 people.

More than two dozen Lebanese officials have been charged in connection with the blast, including Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab; former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil; former public works minister Ghazi Zeaiter; and former public works minister Youssef Finianos. As for Capt. Prokoshev - who has long since retired from shipping - the charges come as a surprise. “I am shocked. I do not understand at all what could be the basis for my arrest," he told Reuters.