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The Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion was the worst peacetime military accident ever recorded in Cyprus.[1] The incident occurred on 11 July 2011, when 98 containers of explosives that were being stored for 2½ years in the sun on the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base near Zygi self-detonated.[2][3]

The resulting explosion killed 13 people, 12 of them immediately, including Captain Andreas Ioannides, the Commander of the Navy (Cyprus's most senior naval officer), and the base commander, Lambros Lambrou. Also killed were four navy personnel and six firefighters, while a further 62 people were injured. The explosion severely damaged hundreds of nearby buildings including the island's largest power station, responsible for supplying over half of Cyprus' electricity. As a result, much of Cyprus was without power in the immediate aftermath of the incident and rolling blackouts were initiated in order to conserve supplies.

As a result of the incident, the Cypriot Defence Minister and the Commander-in-Chief of the Cypriot National Guard both resigned. Angered by the government's failure to dispose of the munitions, which had been seized in 2009, several thousand citizens staged demonstrations in the capital Nicosia and other cities, every day in the week following the accident.

a

Background

The Evangelos Florakis Navy Base is a Cyprus Navy base, situated near Zygi, between Limassol and Larnaca.[4]

In open storage on the base were 98 containers of explosives[5] that had been seized by the United States Navy in 2009 after it intercepted a Cypriot-flagged, Russian owned vessel, the MV Monchegorsk travelling from Iran to Syria in the Red Sea.[6] [7] According to leaked US cables through WikiLeaks, released in 2011, the US through Hillary Clinton exerted pressure on Cyprus to confiscate the shipment.[8] The ship was escorted to a Cypriot port and the Cyprus Navy was given responsibility for the explosives, which it moved to the Evangelos Florakis a month later.[9] At the time of the incident in 2011, the explosives had apparently been left in the open for over two years. The Cypriot government had declined offers from Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to remove or dispose of the material, having feared an adverse reaction from Syria.[5] The government had instead requested that the UN effect the removal, but claimed that its request had been rejected.[10]

Explosion

The explosion occurred at 05:50 EEST (02:50 UTC) following a fire caused by explosions of several containers starting one hour and 20 minutes earlier. Every house in the village of Zygi was damaged by the blast, which was felt in the village of Mari over 3 miles (5 kilometres) from Zygi. The Vasilikos Power Station, the largest power facility on Cyprus, which provided approximately half the island's electricity, was severely damaged, causing widespread power cuts which affected much of Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, over 40 miles (65 km) from the Evangelos Florakis base.[11]

The blast killed 12 people on the spot and injured a further 62, of whom two were injured seriously with one dying later increasing the number of dead to 13. Among those killed were Captain Andreas Ioannides, the Commander of the Navy (the professional head of the Cyprus Navy) and Commander Lambros Lambrou, 45, the commander of the Evangelos Florakis base.[12] Also killed were four other Cyprus Navy personnel and six civilian firefighters who had been tackling the small blaze that led to the explosion.[5]

Immediate aftermath

As a result of the damage to the power station, the electricity supply to approximately half of Cyprus was interrupted. The Electricity Authority of Cyprus later instituted rolling blackouts in order to conserve the supply and stated that it would import generators from Greece and Israel while the damage, estimated at €2 billion to repair.[9] The rolling blackouts lasted for two to three hours in each area and were planned to affect only residential areas. The electricity authority stated that "airports, hospitals, tourist areas and industrial estates will not be affected from the power cuts in an effort not to cause problems for our economy".[13] The economic damage of the disaster has yet to be officially assessed by the Government, but of the 700 million euro facility, only a "mangled shell remained." The station's installed capacity was 47% of EAC's total and would have soon increased to 55% with the delivery of Unit 5.[14] A private deal was signed on 16 July for the supply of up to 80MW from Northern Cyprus until the end of August[15][16].

Funerals were held for the majority of the dead, including Ioannides, on 13 July.[13]

Some time after the explosion, speculation emerged that some of the substances in the containers may have been toxic. There were concerns for the health of those who were in the vicinity of the explosion, but the Cypriot Health Minister announced on 20 July that no public health risk had been detected, but residents would be kept under observation as a "precautionary measure".[17]

Political repercussions

The Cypriot Defence Minister, Costas Papacostas, and the National Guard Commander-in-Chief, General Petros Tsalikidis, both resigned from their offices as a result of the incident.[6][10] The government announced that an independent inquiry into the incident would be held[9] and Cyprus Police announced that it would launch a criminal investigation.[18] The explosion destroyed several houses and over 250 others suffered lesser damage, displacing approximately 150 people.[5][9]

Several thousand people upset by the Cypriot government's failure to dispose of the explosives held a demonstration in the capital Nicosia on 12 July. A group of about fifty broke away from the demonstration and stormed the grounds of the Presidential Palace, demanding the resignation of Dimitris Christofias, President of Cyprus.[19] The breakaway group was almost immediately apprehended by the Cyprus Police, who nonetheless used tear gas ten minutes after the incident had begun in an attempt to disperse the crowds.[10] The protests continued into 13 July and 20 people were arrested during the disorder.[13]

On 19 July, Markos Kyprianou, the Cypriot Foreign Minister, resigned, becoming the second cabinet minister to resign over[20] the explosion.
References

^ "Cyprus protest over deadly blast at navy base". BBC News (BBC). 12 July 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
^ "Cyprus FM formally resigns over deadly blast". Associated Press (The Kansas City Star). 19 July 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
^ "French, Greek experts join Cyprus blast probe". Associated Press (Sign On San Diego). 12 July 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
^ Dewhurst, Patrick (11 July 2011). "Breaking News: huge explosion at Evangelos Florakis naval base". Cyprus Mail (Cyprus Mail Co Ltd). Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ a b c d Evripidou, Stefanos (12 July 2011). "'Criminal errors' in navy base blast". Cyprus Mail (Cyprus Mail Co Ltd). Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ a b "Cyprus: Navy chief killed by base munitions blast". BBC News (BBC). 11 July 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ "Negligence charged in Cyprus explosion". UPI (Nicosia, Cyprus). 12 July 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ Hazou, Elias (3 July 2011). "A diplomatic vice with no room to wriggle". Cyprus Mail (Cyprus Mail Co Ltd). Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ a b c d "Protests follow Cyprus navy fire deaths". Financial Times (The Financial Times Limited). 12 July 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ a b c Spencer, Richard (12 July 2011). "Anger grows in Cyprus over 'criminal errors' behind explosion". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ Psyllides, George (11 July 2011). "Evangelos Florakis blast kills 12". Cyprus Mail (Cyprus Mail Co Ltd). Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ "The victims of the naval base tragedy". Cyprus Mail (Cyprus Mail Co Ltd). 12 July 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
^ a b c Morley, Nathan (13 July 2011). "Anger Grows in Cyprus Over Munitions Blast". Voice of America (United States Government). Retrieved 13 July 2011.
^ "Cyprus says attempted to offload Iran blast cargo". Reuters. 7/12/11. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
^ "Power boost from north Cyprus". Cyprus Mail. 17 July 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
^ "‘Devletsiz’ uzlaşı" (in Turkish). Kıbrıs. 17 July 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
^ "Reassurances on Mari health concerns". Vyprus Mail (Cyprus Mail Co Ltd). 20 July 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2011.
^ "Cyprus protest over deadly blast at navy base". BBC News (BBC). 12 July 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
^ "Cypriots Riot After Deadly Munitions Blast". Voice of America (United States Government). 12 July 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
^ Hadjicostis, Menelaos (20 July 2011). "Cyprus FM formally resigns over deadly blast". Forbes. Retrieved 20 July 2011.

External links

Images from The Guardian.
Images from Hellas-Sat: the base before and after (first, second) the explosion.

Cyprus Encyclopedia

Cyprus

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