BEIRUT: A judge on Friday ordered the seizure of a cargo ship moored in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, carrying 5,000 tonnes of flour believed to have been stolen from Ukraine.
The vessel, the Laodicea, is Syrian and subject to US sanctions. The cargo belongs to Loyal Agro, a grain trading company in Turkey, which said it provided Lebanese customs with documents proving the source of the cargo was legitimate.
However, the Ukrainian Embassy in Beirut said the ship was “carrying 5,000 tonnes of barley and 5,000 tonnes of flour which we suspect were taken from Ukrainian stores”. He said a Ukrainian judge issued a decision to seize the vessel and the cargo after an investigation.
A spokesman for Loyal Agro said the shipment was originally destined for Syria, but the company decided to unload 5,000 tons of flour in Lebanon due to the shortage of bread there. He said the flour could be sold for up to $650 a ton in Lebanon, compared to $600 in Syria.
Lebanese bakeries have been inundated this week by frustrated crowds in a country where around half the population is food insecure.
Previously, Lebanon imported most of its wheat from Ukraine, but shipments were cut short by the Russian invasion and blockade of key Black Sea ports.
Nasser Yassin, Lebanon’s acting Minister of Environment, said: “Lebanon respects international laws. The vessel that was allegedly stolen from Ukraine and docked in Tripoli has not been unloaded.
He said the issue was being considered by the Lebanese economy and public works ministers.
Some Lebanese observers fear that some parties are taking advantage of the economic and political chaos in Lebanon to smuggle goods into Syria and circumvent US sanctions, especially following claims that the Laodicea belonged to the Syrian Ports General Directorate. .
A source from the Lebanese Ministry of Economy told Arab News: “Importing wheat or flour from abroad does not require ministry approval, unless it has been subsidized by the central bank.
“Apart from that, private companies and mills have the right to freely import wheat or flour, provided Lebanese customs verify the legitimacy of the import.”
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said Lebanese authorities had not yet been able to “determine the origin of the cargo of flour and barley carried by the ship”.
He said Lebanon had “received a number of complaints and warnings from a number of Western countries” following the ship’s docking.
The new shipping line comes a week before Lebanon marks the second anniversary of the August 4 Beirut port explosion.