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No Warning from Fire Chief About Unstable Exlosives

naval base explosion cyprusThe head and deputy head of the fire department knew about the unstable state of explosives stored at Mari naval base as of July 6th, but did not warn the rest of the fire department, said the father of one of the young firemen killed in the July 11th explosion.

Bereaved father Michalis Theophilou said that the fire chief did an on-site inspection on the base on July 6th. During the inspection he saw that explosives in the 98 containers were in a dangerously unstable state and that there was increased heat and pressure in the metal boxes, said Theophilou.

"Between 6/7 and 11/7, the EMAK director did not inform the rest of the department or the naval base about the problem," said Theophilou in a statement to the media which he has also given to Attorney-General Petros Clerides.

Six firemen were killed in the blast after they were called to the scene at 4.27am on July 11th by a phone call from Zygi police station. According to Theophilou, they never had a chance and were on a suicide mission because they could not follow normal regulations. They simply didn't know about the high explosives - nitroglycerine - which eventually detonated just before 6am.

explosion mari naval base aerial shotThe fire they were called to was caused by low-explosive gunpowder igniting in the containers, said experts from Greece and the UK. This detonated the nitroglycerine - a high explosive - resulting in a blast that scattered debris for up to two kilometres.

In other developments linked with the investigation, the father and sister of one of the blast victims told attorney-general Petros Clerides that a survivor of the explosion received threatening phone calls warning him to keep quiet about the night of the tragedy. The attorney-general assured the relatives that the witness has nothing to fear and that his door is always open to hear testimony.

Week two of power cuts, protests

Protests and power cuts are continuing into the second week after Vassiliko power station was crippled in the explosion. The largest power station on the island, with a capacity of 800 megawatts, was hit by a shockwave from the blast at Evangelos Florakis naval base on July 11th. At 5:55am, 98 containers with explosives blew up, killing 13 men and buckling two of the large fuel tankers at the power station. There was also substantial damage to a new unit which had just been finished and would have supplied a further 200 megawatts.

The containers were confiscated from the Cypriot-flagged MV Monchegorsk in 2009. The ship was leased by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) and owned by Limassol-based company NB Maritime Management. The weapons on board were en route to Syria in breach of UN sanctions and were being investigated for links to Iran's defence and nuclear industries.

A few hours after the blast, the minister of defence and national guard chief both resigned, and since then, calls for President Demetris Christofias to resign have grown louder and louder. Foreign minister Markos Kyprianou offered to resign on July 18th.

A number of government officials were concerned about the confiscated munitions, including Auditor-general Chrystalla Georgatzis. In 2009, she asked what steps the ministry of defence was taking to resolve the problems of safely storing the containers, which were made up of "various kinds of powders whose composition and reaction to high temperatures was unknown." Once the munitions were confiscated under customs law, they became the property of the Republic of Cyprus, said Georgatzis.

Other public officials were not so concerned. In statements in February 2009, resigned minister of defence Costas Papacostas said that the containers were perfectly safe and could even be stored in a residential neighborhood.

In the days since July 11th, thousands of demonstrators have protested outside the Presidential Palace in the capital, but the president has shrugged off the public's demands for his resignation. After a meeting of the council of ministers, lawyer Polys Polyviou was put in charge of an investigation into the deadly explosion, and attorney-general Petros Clerides launched an investigation through the police.

Photo credit: Sigma TV

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