Lebanon Weighs Ukraine Claim That Docked Syrian Ship Holds Stolen Grain

Lebanese authorities said on Friday that they were investigating a Ukrainian claim that a US-sanctioned Syrian ship docked at the port of Tripoli, northern Lebanon, carrying Ukrainian grain stolen by Russia.

The Laodicea, a Syrian-flagged cargo ship owned by the state shipping company, arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday, carrying nearly 10 tons of wheat and barley. Soon after, the Ukrainian Embassy informed the Lebanese authorities that they believed the grain had been stolen by Russia. Russia is a close ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and has intervened in that country’s civil war to support him.

Lebanese customs authorities are examining the ship’s paperwork to assess whether the cargo has been sanctioned or stolen, according to Raymond El Khoury, the agency’s director-general. But he said that the Ukrainian Embassy had sent no evidence to support its allegations, and if no evidence was found that the grain was stolen, it would be lifted. It is not clear where the beads were tied up.

“We are still conducting our investigation,” Mr El Khoury said. “I can’t play a pirate and stop ships without proof.”

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Ihor Ostash, said that the ship was on a list of 78 that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies have proven to be involved in the illegal transportation of military personnel. Stolen mugs of Ukraine. Mr. Ostash said a Ukrainian judge ordered on Friday to seize Laodicea along with goods transported on board.

USA warning in May that Russia was trying to profit from looting Ukraine’s grain, which accounts for a tenth of global wheat exports. Most of the stolen grain was shipped to ports in Crimea, controlled by Russia, and then loaded onto Russian cargo ships, including some under Western sanctions, according to Ukrainian officials. . Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing up to 500,000 tons of wheat, worth $100 million, since its invasion in February.

The Russian embassy in Lebanon told a local TV channel that Ukraine’s allegations were untrue and said the ship had no contact with the Russian government.

Laodicea has been under US sanctions since 2015, as part of a widespread effort to pressure and isolate the Syrian government for its atrocities during the civil war. The ship left the Turkish port of Izmir on July 7 and headed for the Black Sea, with stops in more Turkish ports, according to detailed maritime data collected by marine website MarineTraffic .

The ship appeared to have turned off its satellite transmitter, and after briefly disappearing from the map, the Laodicea reappeared on July 21, passing halfway through the Black Sea en route south to the Bosporus Strait. of Turkey.

Ukrainian authorities say the ship arrived at a Crimean port and loaded with stolen Ukrainian grain while its transmitter was offline, and sailed close to the Turkish coast through Cyprus before reaching Tripoli, Lebanon.

Ukrainian grain ships have used a number of tactics to conceal their activities, including turning off transponders, according to former US deputy secretary of state James K. Glassman, a spokesman for the agency. Russian Piracy Research Initiative, recently announced. one report investigating Russia’s theft of grain and steel from Ukraine.

He said the Russians also mix their grain with Ukrainian grain to avoid sanctions. Russia and Ukraine grow many different grains due to their climates, and when they are mixed together they are more difficult to tell apart.

El Khoury said that because the Laodicea had stopped at Turkish ports before reaching Lebanon, Turkish authorities would seize the ship if there was any problem with the grain. The Turkish government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turkey helped the broker the agreement that Ukraine and Russia signed last week allowing the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports.

Valerie Hopkins and Matina Stevis-Gridneff contribution report.

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