Syrian ship carrying ‘stolen Ukrainian barley and flour’ docks in Lebanon, Ukrainian embassy says

BEIRUT, July 28 (Reuters) – A Syrian ship under U.S. sanctions has docked in the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon carrying barley and wheat, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut told Reuters on Thursday having been looted by Russia from Ukrainian stores.

The Laodicea docked in Tripoli on Wednesday, according to maritime data website MarineTraffic.

“The ship traveled from a Crimean port closed to international shipping, carrying 5,000 tons of barley and 5,000 tons of flour which we suspect were taken from Ukrainian stores,” the embassy told Reuters. .

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“This is the first time that a shipment of stolen grain and flour has reached Lebanon,” the statement said.

Russia has previously denied allegations that it stole Ukrainian grain. An official at the Russian embassy in Lebanon told Reuters he could not comment immediately.

Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Ostash met Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday to discuss the shipment, telling him that buying stolen Ukrainian goods would “damage bilateral relations” between Kyiv and Beirut, the embassy told Reuters.

A Lebanese official confirmed the issue was raised in a Thursday meeting with Aoun and noted Ukraine’s general concerns that Russia may try to sell stolen Ukrainian wheat to a host of countries, including Lebanon. .

Lebanon’s Economy Minister Amin Salam told Reuters the country’s customs authorities and its agriculture ministry are following the matter.

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

The agriculture minister, customs chief and Tripoli port chief did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“We verify the accuracy of the information that has been mentioned in the media, and we have laws and we use Lebanese law,” Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamie told Reuters.

A customs official and a maritime source told Reuters that the port of Tripoli had not unloaded the vessel due to suspicions that it was carrying stolen goods.

“Nothing was removed from the ship – as soon as we got the information we stopped everything,” the customs official said.

The Laodicea is one of a trio of vessels belonging to the Syrian Ports Authority which Ukraine says carries looted wheat from stores in Ukrainian territory recently overtaken by Russia.

All three vessels have been sanctioned by the United States since 2015.

Asked about the Laodicea’s docking in Tripoli, State Department spokesman Ned Price said he could not comment on the specific vessel, but said he could “confirm that the Russians stole 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 subsidized wheat.

Bakeries have been inundated this week with frustrated crowds in a country where around half the population is food insecure, according to the World Food Programme.

Lebanon imported around 60% of its wheat from Ukraine, but these shipments were disrupted by the Russian invasion and blockade of key Black Sea ports through which Ukraine once exported.

Ukraine resumed legal wheat exports to Lebanon in mid-July, according to the Ukrainian embassy and the head of the Lebanese mills association.

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Reporting by Maya Gebeily, Timour Azhari, Laila Bassam and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Howard Goller and Hugh Lawson

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