A Lebanese prosecutor ordered the seizure Saturday of a Syrian-flagged ship that docked at a northern port with a cargo of Ukrainian grain Kyiv’s embassy in Beirut said was “illegal”.
Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat instructed police to investigate the Laodicea, which docked in Tripoli earlier this week, a judicial official said.
Oueidat “ordered the seizure of the ship until the investigation is completed”, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Lebanese police were also instructed to consult Ukraine’s embassy after it claimed that the grain aboard the Syrian-flagged ship was loaded from a region occupied by Russian forces.
Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February, has regularly accused Moscow forces of ransacking its grain warehouses.
According to the Lebanese foreign ministry, the “Syrian-flagged ship is carrying barley and flour”.
Ukrainian ambassador Ihor Ostash told Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday that “illegal barley from occupied Ukrainian territory” was on board the ship.
Preliminary reports indicate that the owner of the shipping company is a Turkish national and the grain belongs to a Syrian merchant, the judicial official said.
Part of the cargo was due to be unloaded in Lebanon and the rest shipped to Syria, the official added.
A customs official told AFP that the vessel’s documents were “all in order and there is no proof that the merchandise was stolen”.
“The ship travelled through Turkey, and would have been seized by Turkish authorities if the vessel was under sanctions,” said the official who declined to be named.
According to some media reports, the US sanctioned the Laodicea several years ago as part of measures taken against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The incident came as Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, prepares to resume grain exports following a UN-backed deal.
Millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain are stranded by a Russian naval blockade and Ukrainian mines laid to avert an amphibious landing on the Black Sea coast.
The seizure of the Laodicea comes as Lebanon, which is struggling with one of the world’s worst financial crises, is also facing a major bread shortage.By Rabiu Olugbenga