BEIRUT (TBEN) – Ukraine’s ambassador to Lebanon on Wednesday insisted a Syrian ship docked in a Lebanese port was carrying stolen Ukrainian grain and urged Lebanon to blockade the ship.
The claim comes just days before the small, cramped country receives Ukraine’s first grain shipment since the Russian invasion began more than five months ago.
Syrian-flagged Laodicea has been anchored in the port of Tripoli since its arrival last Thursday, with 10,000 tons of wheat flour and barley on board. Ukraine says the grain was stolen by Russia.
Ukrainian ambassador to Lebanon Ihor Ostash urged Lebanon not to let the ship leave port.
The US Treasury Department sanctioned the ship in 2015 for its ties to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, a close political and military ally of Moscow.
A senior Lebanese customs official said on Friday that Ukraine’s claims that the ship contained stolen goods were untrue and that the ship’s papers were in order after an inspection.
Lebanon, already gripped by a crippling economic and political crisis, has become mired in the fallout from the Russian war in Ukraine. A judge ordered the Laodicea not to sail for 72 hours on Monday, at Kiev’s request. However, the Attorney General of Lebanon decided the ship could depart the next day.
The Laodicea is now free to go once those 72 hours are up, but that would infuriate Ukraine. Russia’s diplomatic mission in Lebanon praised the move, accusing Ukraine of lying about the charge and damaging relations between Moscow and Beirut.
Ostash presented documents and maps of the Laodicea voyage and cargo at a press conference on Wednesday. He said evidence from Kiev’s security services and judiciary indicates that the ship contained stolen goods.
“Of course it is important to understand that we want to go through legal proceedings to … provide all possible evidence and evidence from the Ukrainian side,” Ostash said. He presented a photo of what appears to be the Laodicea being loaded with the cargo on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula.
The ongoing uproar over the Laodicea comes as the first grain ship carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian maize aboard the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni sails into Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait en route to the port of Tripoli in Lebanon. It is the first grain ship to leave the war-torn country since the Russian invasion in late February.
A Lebanese official told The The Bharat Express News on Wednesday that the ship is expected to take about four days to arrive in Lebanon from Istanbul after it was searched.
After presenting Kiev’s final evidence on the Laodicea, Ostash turned to the Razoni, which he said was being transported “in a legal manner, not stolen, original Ukrainian grain,” unlike the Syrian ship.
Lebanon in February condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which infuriated Moscow and its allies in Beirut. Ostash again praised Lebanon for taking this position.
The shipments come at a time when Lebanon is suffering from a food security crisis, with rising food inflation, wheat shortages and bread lines. Three quarters of the population lives in poverty.