At a press conference outside Beirut on Wednesday, Ukraine’s ambassador to Lebanon urged local officials to seize an allegedly stolen grain cargo aboard the Syrian bulker Laodicea, which recently arrived in Tripoli on a voyage from the Black Sea. Lebanese prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat has lifted a seizure order on the ship, and a separate detention order from a judge in Tripoli will expire tomorrow, allowing the vessel to depart with its cargo. On Twitter, Lebanon’s Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamie said that the vessel would be allowed to depart and sail to Syria.
The Ukrainian Embassy claims that the Laodicea covertly called at the Russian-occupied port of Feodosia and took on 10,000 tonnes of misappropriated Ukrainian flour and barley. Ukraine accuses Russia of stealing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain from occupied areas in its east and south, then transporting them to Russian-occupied ports for export.
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.
Ukrainian Ambassador to Lebanon Ehur Ostash told reporters Wednesday that Ukrainian officials have evidence showing that Laodicea loaded her cargo in Feodosia, not in the Russian port of Kavkaz (as claimed by her operator). Ostash said that his office has satellite and on-the-ground imagery showing the vessel in port at Feodosia from July 9 through July 20, and that multiple images show the progressive loading of her holds over the course of the port call.
He also noted that Ukraine is willing to discuss terms of the cargo’s transfer to Lebanon if it is seized. According to Lebanon’s National News Agency, Ostash said that Ukrainian producers would accept $350 per tonne for the wheat, roughly half of the $650 per tonne market price that the Laodicea’s charterer had hoped to obtain. In addition, he noted that the first grain ship to leave Odesa since February has cleared inspection and is headed for Lebanon, and it will arrive in four to five days’ time.
Lebanon’s deeply troubled economy is facing a serious wheat shortage, driven by soaring grain prices, a government employee strike and the destruction of its main grain silos in the 2020 Port of Beirut explosion. The Laodicea’s cargo would give a much-needed boost for its limited supplies.