by Nikolas Stylianou
Research Associate & Security Analyst
Research Institute for European and American Studies, rieas.gr
On the July 11th a tragic incident took place at the Navy Base of Mari (Limassol). 98 containers of gunpowder, explosives, rockets and guns exploded resulting to the death of 13 people from the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Cyprus and the Cyprus Fire Service.
The current article aims to highlight the background of the catastrophe and underline the personal responsibilities of the President of Cyprus, Mr. Demetris Christofias, the Minister of Defense, Costas Papacostas as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marcos Kyprianou.
Background of the Tragedy
The Cypriot-flagged ship “Monchegorsk”, started its journey from Iran with Syria as its final destination. USS San Antonio boarded the ship which was ordered to port in Cyprus where Cypriot authorities, in collaboration with UN experts found 1,980 boxes of powder for 130mm guns and 1,320 cases of powder and powder pellets for 125mm guns, according to a Cypriot government report. Additionally, anti-tank rockets used at the Russian-made Cornet anti-tank complexes used by Hezbollah, were found on the afore-mentioned cargo. Under the Resolutions 1737 (2006) and 1747 (2007) of the Security Council of the United Nations, arms exports from Iran are strictly prohibited. The 98 containers were stored at the National Guard’s Navy Base at Mari (Limassol) and remained there for 30 months despite the warnings from the United Nations Sanctions Committees which had been warning the Cypriot government that the exposure of the containers to extreme weather conditions over extended period of time might have been extremely dangerous. Unfortunately the government paid no attention to the warnings.
To continue with, it needs to be mentioned that the 98 containers were stored right next to the Vasilikos Power Station, the largest in Cyprus. Consequently, the explosion resulted to the wrecking of the Power Station and thus causing major blackouts all over the island.
Chronicle of a Death foretold
This section of my analysis will address the main key-points that led us to the July 11th catastrophe:
- The United Nations Sanctions Committee, as well as Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom, would repeatedly ask the government of Cyprus to deliver the containers to a country, member-state of the United Nations, which held the expertise and experience to destroy and/or neutralize the content – The government of Cyprus remained indifferent to the suggestions of the United Nations and the afore-mentioned countries.
- The government of Cyprus would fear severe diplomatic retaliation from Syria and Iran as a response to the retention of the containers and thus did absolutely nothing towards the destruction/neutralization of the containing material.
- The leadership of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Cyprus would express its deep concerns over the Navy Base security due to the possible instability of the containing military material that would be exposed to extreme weather conditions over an extended period of time. President Christofias’ decision was to keep hold of the material due to “political reasons”. Despite the deep concerns on behalf of the Ministry of Defense as well as the leadership of the National Guard, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcos Kyprianou himself as well as the executive branch of the Republic would agree entirely over the storage of the military material at the Navy Base at Mari.
Questions that demand answers
A number of questions arise in regards to the way that the government of Cyprus handled the situation over the past 30 months:
- Why didn’t the government pay attention to the recommendations of the state’s Auditor General / Chief of the National Guard / Commander of the Navy concerning the extrication of the containing material as well as its conveyance to a country which had previous expertise in conventional arms destruction/neutralization?
- Why wouldn’t the government (especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Ministry of Defense) insist on the immediate transportation of the hazardous material to a third country?
- Why didn’t the government accept the U.S demand which provided for the transportation and controlled destruction of the hazardous material to Malta or to another base which comes under the United States European Command (EUCOM)?
- Why didn’t the government ask for the assistance of the EU competent services concerning the handling of the situation especially when the government was in knowledge that it had neither the expertise nor the experience to handle the situation?
- Why doesn’t the President of Cyprus, Mr. Demetris Christofias assume full responsibility for the tragic incident and the death of 13 people since he was in full knowledge (through his Diplomatic Office and specifically the Ambassador Leonidas Pantelides?
- Why would the resigned Minister of Defense, Costas Papacostas claim that the military material would be safe to store “even in a residential area” and plus, next to the largest Power Supply Station of the Republic?
- The government must resign and declare early elections. The handling of the situation by the government of Mr. Demetris Christofias was leniently deplorable. The government has exhibited criminal negligence which led to the death of 13 people, dozens of injured, the wrecking of the largest Power Station on the island as well as the extended psychological damage suffered by the Cyprus people.
- The drastic cuts in defense budget especially over the last three years have led to the wrecking of the military security infrastructure, as well as the maintenance of the existing military hardware and material.
- Tens of thousands of Cypriot people went out on the streets protesting against the government asking for its resignation. It is worth noting that despite the fact that one week has passed since the explosion and yet, the government has not apologized to the families of the victims.