Georgia produced the chemicals that exploded in Beirut blast

TBILISI/AUG.4 (The Bulletin) — Rustavi Azot, Georgia’s largest industrial enterprise, has
been named as the producer in 2013 of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate
that has now exploded in Beirut, killing 145 people and damaging large
parts of the city.

Its management, backed up by Georgian ministers, though said that
the chemicals had been safe when it was loaded on to The Rhosus, a cargo
ship, in its Black Sea port of Batumi and that the fault for the explosion
lies with the authorities in Beirut.

“Rustavi Azot is one of the country’s largest exporter companies
and produces up to 1% of the world’s total ammonium nitrate
consumption,” it said. “The company produces, stores and exports its
products having required licenses and permissions and in compliance with
all applicable national and international standards.”

The Soviet-era plant near Tbilisi employs 2,000 people and is the only
ammonium nitrate producer in the South Caucasus. Over the past half a
decade, the Georgian government has promoted Rustavi Azot and talked up
its exports and in 2016, the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development led an international consortium of banks with a $155m
loan designed to help modernise the plant.

There had even been talk at the time of the EBRD taking a stake in
Rustavi Azot, although this does not appear to have materialised.
In its statement, Rustavi Azot was also careful to point out that new
management has been running the plant for the past three years and
shouldn’t be held responsible for previous deals.

But questions will still be asked as to how more than half the plant’s
annual production of ammonium nitrate in 2013 could be loaded onto
the Rhosus, which was sailing under the flag of landlocked Moldova and
was owned by Russian Igor Grechushkin.

Ammonium nitrate is mainly used as a fertiliser but can also be used to
produce cheap explosives and the Rhosus had been bound for an arms
factory in Mozambique when it was diverted to Beirut and its cargo impounded.

— This story was first published in issue 456 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin on Aug. 9 2020

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