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Beirut explosive compound was meant for Mozambique

The deadly consignment had been ordered by the Fabrica de Explosivos de Mozambique, (FEM) a company which manufactures commercial explosives, The New York Times and other media have reported.

The 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that devastated much of Beirut on Tuesday was originally destined to be shipped to Beira, Mozambique in 2013.

A Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin was reportedly paid $1-million by the International Bank of Mozambique to ship the ammonium nitrate – an agricultural chemical often used in explosives – from the Black Sea port of Batumi, in Georgia, to Beira.

Grechushkin either owned or leased the Moldovan-registered cargo ship Rhosus which loaded the ammonium nitrate and then embarked on its ill-fated voyage, which included a mutiny by the crew for his failure to pay them and many other money problems.

Grechushkin, who seemed to be perpetually cash-strapped, first couldn’t afford to pay for the passage of the Rhosus through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean to reach Beira. He diverted the ship to Beirut to pick up heavy machinery to earn extra cash to pay for the voyage.

But the machinery didn’t fit into the ship in Beirut. A series of disputes followed; including over Grechushkin’s failure to pay for docking and other port fees, supplies to the ship; and about the seaworthiness of the very old vessel which had apparently sprung a leak.

In the middle of this, either the Russian abandoned the Rhosus because he couldn’t cover all its costs or the Lebanese authorities confiscated it, with its explosive cargo.

Some months later they transferred the ammonium nitrate to a warehouse in the port where it remained, while Lebanese authorities haggled over what to do with it, until Tuesday’s immense explosion which killed well over 100 people, injured thousands and flattened large parts of the city.

What is not clear is why FEM hired the apparently unreliable  Grechushkin as its middleman for acquiring the ammonium nitrate and whether it ever got its $1-million back.

The company’s website and Linkedin page say it is  “a producer and supplier of commercial explosives, initiating systems and blasting services for mining and construction. It is involved, since its beginning [in 1955], in several important constructions in Mozambique”.

The head office is in Matola, near Maputo and the company also has branches in Sofala province – which has Beira as its capital – and Tete and Nampula provinces. It is also present in Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi.

The corporate intelligence firm Dun and Bradstreet categorises FEM as a “Private, Limited Company, Independent” but does not elaborate on who owns it. DM

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