A Lebanese prosecutor has ordered the detention of a sanctioned Syrian ship allegedly laden with stolen Ukrainian grain.
The 13,000 dwt Syrian freighter Laodicea arrived in Tripoli last week on a voyage from the Black Sea, where she had been operating without AIS for weeks. The Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon claims that the vessel covertly called at the Russian-occupied port of Feodosia and took on 10,000 tonnes of misappropriated Ukrainian flour and barley.
The Laodicea is owned by the Syrian state, and she has been implicated in sanctioned trading between Russian-occupied Crimea and Syria for years. She was blacklisted by the United States Treasury in 2015, along with the Syrian vessels Souria and Finikia.
Her cargo had originally been destined for Syria, an employee of Turkish grain trading house Loyal Agro Co Ltd. told Reuters, but the Laodicea had diverted to Lebanon because of the nation’s high demand for wheat. On the new itinerary, half the cargo would be offloaded in Tripoli and the rest would go to Syria as originally intended. The source denied that the grain came from Ukraine and claimed that it was a legitimate cargo of Russian origin.
Lebanese officials are less convinced. On Saturday, after Ukraine appealed directly to Lebanese president Michel Aoun, a prosecutor ordered the Laodicea held while police investigate the origins of her cargo. If it were confiscated on behalf of Ukraine, the grain could still end up in Lebanese hands: the Ukrainian embassy said in a statement that it is willing to discuss the terms of the cargo’s transfer to Lebanon if it is seized.
Ukraine has long been one of Lebanon’s main suppliers of wheat, and though that relationship was interrupted by the Russian naval blockade, it looks set to resume. An agreement for safe passage of Black Sea grain shipping finally entered into operation on Monday, and the very first vessel to depart Ukraine is headed to Lebanon to deliver 26,000 tonnes of corn.