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Lebanon Disaster

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Tags: Condolence

Ms O’CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, Dr Woodruff and I both wish to pass on our sincerest condolences, which is not a strong enough word, and all the love in our hearts to the people of Lebanon. We acknowledge that for people of Lebanese heritage anywhere in the world it must have been utterly devastating to see those pictures.

We live in a world of very rapid exchange of information. So many of us witnessed those blasts through social media, and when it became clear how powerful that explosion was, I think it left the world reeling.

We know at least 178 people lost their lives. Thousands and thousands of people were injured and 300 000 people have been made homeless. Because of the blast impact on health facilities, it has been particularly difficult to treat the injured.

I have seen images of the residents of Beirut cleaning up their own city, looking for survivors and, as one of the survivors said, our hearts are shattered into pieces. The blast obliterated vast tracts of Beirut and was felt in Cyprus, 190 kilometres away. There was blast damage at the airport 10 kilometres from the Port of Beirut.

We know this blast was caused by 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been left in a warehouse in the Port of Beirut since 2013, which goes to the corruption of the Lebanese government and of a global shipping industry which too often has negligence and corruption at its heart.

From reading an investigative journalist's report into the cause of the blast, my understanding is that it goes back to 2013 and the story of the MV Rhosus, the ship that delivered the ammonium nitrate to Beirut. I am reading now from an investigative report by Rachel Slade how a Russian grifter ignited the tragedy in Beirut -


An undisclosed buyer paid the Russian business man Igor Grechushkin $1 million to ship 2750 of ammonium nitrate from Georgia to Mozambique. It is unclear whether Grechushkin had any prior shipping experience but clearly it did not stop him. All you need to become a shipper is apparently a ship.

To carry out his end of the bargain, Grechushkin apparently used some of his windfall to purchase the Rhosus, a 27-year-old cargo ship from a Cyprus-based company. He employed a fellow Russian, Boris Prokoshev, to helm the ship. The ammonium nitrate was manufactured in Rustavi Georgia by Rustavi Azot, a large chemical manufacturer, and loaded onto the Rhosus, which then sailed across the Black Sea, stopping in Istanbul, Turkey, Piraeus Greece and finally Beirut. The ship's master, Prokoshev, saw the first red flag during the Istanbul layover.

I see the whole crew is changing for some reason, he says. It struck me as suspicious. Grechushkin quickly dismissed his captain's concerns but later Prokoshev learned that the seamen had jumped ship because they had not been paid for four months.

The Rhosus then made a pit stop in Piraeus Greece for refuelling and provisioning. There, Prokoshev says, Grechushkin himself came and returned all the food back to the suppliers. He did not pay. He said there was no money. Instead, to generate cash, Grechushkin sent the ship to Beirut to take more cargo. Although the Rhosus was already loaded with tonnes of ammonium nitrate, Grechushkin contracted it to carry heavy road equipment on her deck.

While docked in the Beirut port, Prokoshev was alarmed to see a hatch cover sagging under the weight of machinery. The captain knew that an overloaded ship is a deadly ship so he pushed back against the vessel's owner, risking his job to save his life but to no avail.

The ship would not be able to leave anyway because Grechushkin had not ponied up the port fee. While the Lebanese were holding the Rhosus at the dock, the fresh crew heard that the previous crew had not been paid. They went on strike and eventually left the ship. According to additional reports, Lebanese inspectors also determined that the Rhosus was in serious disrepair. It was doomed to stay put, tied to a Beirut dock. She would never sail again. The Rhosus and her stockpile of ammonium nitrate were now Beirut's problem.

Red flags were raised about that warehouse full of ammonium nitrate, but they were ignored by the government and by the port authorities. We are dealing with the most devastating consequences of poor governance and too little care for the people of Beirut by their government. It is important we acknowledge that corruption in all its forms can have utterly devastating consequences for people.

Our hearts are shattered for the people of Beirut too, and I want to send our love and condolences to the people of Lebanon.