Sanctioned Syrian ship with suspected load of stolen Ukrainian grain docks in Lebanon

Kyiv's embassy in Beirut believes cargo of wheat and barley had been plundered by Russia

Syrian cargo ship the 'Laodicea' sails on the Bosphorus en route to the Mediterranean, in Istanbul this week. Reuters
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A Syrian ship under US sanctions has docked in the Lebanese port of Tripoli carrying barley and wheat that Ukraine's embassy in Beirut said had been plundered by Russia from Ukrainian stores.

The Laodicea arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday, shipping data website MarineTraffic said.

The ship travelled from a Crimean port that is closed to international shipping, Reuters reported, citing the embassy. The embassy said it was carrying 5,000 tonnes of flour and 5,000 tonnes of barley.

“This is the first time a shipment of stolen grains and flour reaches Lebanon,” an embassy statement said.

Russia has previously denied allegations that it has stolen Ukrainian grain.

The Russian embassy said it had "no information regarding the Syrian vessel or a cargo brought to Lebanon by a private company."

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said he had received "a number of protests and warnings" from Western nations following the arrival of the ship at the port of Tripoli.

Ukrainian ambassador Ihor Ostash met Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday to discuss the shipment.

He told him that purchasing stolen Ukrainian goods would “harm bilateral ties” between Kyiv and Beirut.

A Lebanese official confirmed that the issue was raised during a meeting on Thursday with Mr Aoun and noted Ukraine's general concerns that Russia might try selling stolen Ukrainian wheat to a number of countries, including Lebanon.

Lebanon's Economy Minister Amin Salam told Reuters that the country's customs authority and its Agriculture Ministry were following up on the issue.

Mr Salam had said earlier on Thursday that severe bread shortages in Lebanon would this week be eased by new wheat imports, but did not say from where they were coming.

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

“Nothing was taken off of the ship — as soon as we got the information, we stopped everything,” the customs official said.

The Laodicea is one of three ships owned by the Syrian port authority that Ukraine says have been transporting wheat plundered from stores in Ukrainian territory recently taken over by Russia.

US sanctions have been imposed on all three vessels since 2015.

When asked about the Laodicea's docking in Tripoli, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said he could not comment on the specific ship but said he could “confirm the fact that the Russians have pilfered grain belonging to Ukraine” in general.

The Laodicea's arrival coincides with a new round of severe bread shortages across Lebanon, where a three-year economic crisis has slowed imports of subsidised wheat.

Bakeries were inundated this week with frustrated crowds in a country where much of the population live in poverty.

Lebanon used to import about 60 per cent 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 Ukraine 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.

Updated: July 29, 2022, 2:56 PM
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