Ship carrying alleged stolen grain from Ukraine seized in Tripoli

The Russian embassy in Lebanon has insisted that it allegedly has no information about the ship, calling Ukraine's accusations "false and baseless."

 A view shows the ship "Laodicea" docked at port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon (photo credit: REUTERS)
A view shows the ship "Laodicea" docked at port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Lebanese Public Prosecution has seized the ship Laodicea docked in northern Lebanon's Tripoli Port and transferred the investigation to the Information Division, according to information obtained by Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI) on Saturday.

Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat instructed police to investigate the Laodicea, which docked in Tripoli earlier this week, a judicial official said. Oueidat "ordered the seizure of the ship until the investigation is completed," the official said on condition of anonymity, according to the report. 

Lebanese police were also instructed to consult Ukraine's embassy after it claimed that the grain aboard the Syrian-flagged ship was loaded from a region occupied by Russian forces.

For its part, the Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon obtained a decision ordering the seizure of the ship for 72 hours.

An official at a Turkish-based grains trading company denied on Friday that barley and flour aboard a ship docked in a Lebanese port had been stolen from Ukraine, saying the source of the flour was Russia.

The official at Loyal Agro Co Ltd., who declined to be identified, told Reuters that the company had sought to import 5,000 tonnes (about 5,500 US tons) of the flour on the ship to Lebanon to sell to private buyers, not to the Lebanese government.

The Ukrainian embassy said the US-sanctioned Syrian ship had docked in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli "carrying 5,000 tonnes of barley and 5,000 tonnes of flour that we suspect was taken from Ukrainian stores."

They explained that Russia loaded the grain on Wednesday in Crimea. The vessel contains barley exported from the Ukrainian territories seized by Russia.

The embassy added that in the case of confiscation of the ship's cargo, Ukraine is ready to negotiate with Beirut regarding the terms of its transfer to Lebanon.

The Russian embassy in Lebanon insists that it allegedly has no information about the ship, calling Ukraine's accusations "false and baseless." Russia has previously denied Ukrainian allegations that it has stolen Ukrainian grain.

Ukraine's First Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food, Taras Vysotsky, said that Russian forces have already taken several hundred thousand tons of grain from the Russian-occupied territories in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Ukrainian ambassador Ihor Ostash told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday that "illegal barley from occupied Ukrainian territory" was on board the ship.

Lebanese foreign minister Abdallah Bou Habib said that he had received "a number of protests and warnings" from Western nations following the arrival of the ship at the port of Tripoli, a tweet from the ministry's account said.

The cargo

The company official said the cargo had not been offloaded and Lebanese customs had not yet granted an import license as customs was in the process of investigating Ukrainian assertions that the flour had been stolen by Russia from Ukraine following Moscow's invasion of the country.

The official said the company had provided Lebanese customs with documentation showing that the source of the cargo was legitimate.

A customs official and shipping source told Reuters on Thursday that the Tripoli port had not offloaded the ship due to suspicions it was carrying stolen goods.

The company official said that the cargo, some 8,000 tonnes of flour and 1,700 tonnes of barley in total, had initially been destined for Syria but the company decided to offload 5,000 tonnes of flour in Lebanon amid bread shortages tied to a three-year economic crisis.

The remaining cargo was set to be offloaded at a Syrian port, they said.

The official said that the flour could be sold for between $620 and $650 per tonne in Lebanon, whereas a tonne would fetch $600 in Syria.

Wheat import

Bakeries in Lebanon were inundated this week by frustrated crowds in a country where about half the population is food insecure, according to the World Food Programme.

Lebanon used to import most of its wheat from Ukraine, but those shipments have been disrupted by Russia's invasion and blockade of the main Black Sea ports through which the beleaguered country once exported.

Ukraine had resumed legal exports of wheat to Lebanon in mid-July, according to the Ukrainian embassy and the head of Lebanon's mills association.

Reuters contributed to this report.