Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion
The crater produced by the explosion, photographed in 2013
|Native name||Έκρηξη στη ναυτική βάση «Ευάγγελος Φλωράκης»|
|Date||11 July 2011|
The Evangelos Florakis Naval Base explosion was the worst peacetime military accident ever recorded in Cyprus. The incident occurred on 11 July 2011, when 98 containers of explosives that had been stored for 2 1⁄2 years in the sun on the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base near Zygi self-detonated. It is ranked as the fifth largest non-nuclear human-induced explosion in history with a yield of approximately 2 to 3.2 kilotons.
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 all of the buildings in Zygi and 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. The EU prognosticated that the cost of the explosion could be just over 10% of the country's economy.
In open storage on the base were 98 containers of 120 mm, 122 mm, 125 mm, and 160 mm high explosive artillery shells, 7.62 mm shell casings, compressed gunpowder, silver dollar-sized slugs[quantify], primers, and magnesium primers that had been seized by the United States Navy in 2009 after it intercepted a Cypriot-flagged, Russian-owned vessel, Monchegorsk, travelling from Iran to Syria in the Red Sea. According to leaked US cables through WikiLeaks, released in 2011, the US through Hillary Clinton exerted pressure on Cyprus to confiscate the shipment. 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. 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, fearing an adverse reaction from Syria. The government had instead requested that the UN effect the removal, but claimed that its request had been rejected.
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. Extensive damage was caused in a wide area surrounding the blast. 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.
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 head of the Cyprus Navy) and Commander Lambros Lambrou, 45, the commander of the Evangelos Florakis base. Also killed were four other Cyprus Navy personnel and six civilian firefighters who had been tackling the small blaze that led to the explosion.
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, was being repaired. 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". 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. A private deal was signed on 16 July for the supply of up to 80MW from Northern Cyprus until the end of August.
Funerals were held for the majority of the dead, including Ioannides, on 13 July.
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".
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. The government announced that an independent inquiry into the incident would be held and Cyprus Police announced that it would launch a criminal investigation. The explosion destroyed several houses and over 250 others suffered lesser damage, displacing approximately 150 people.
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. 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. The protests continued into 13 July and 20 people were arrested during the disorder.
On 3 October, Polys Polyviou, the independent state-appointed investigator charged to look into potential responsibility by state and other officials leading to the 11 July blast, released a 643-page document detailing his findings of the investigation, concluding that Cypriot president Dimitris Christofias is mainly to blame for the events that led to the explosion. According to the investigation, the president has institutional and very serious personal responsibility for the disaster. The investigator said that the attorney-general should look into the possibility of serious crimes—including manslaughter—being committed by all involved, without exception. The president Dimitris Christofias rejected the results of the investigation, denying any personal responsibility and accusing Mr. Polyviou of exceeding his mandate.
Of Cyprus' US$24.66bn economy, the EU estimates that the cost of the explosion to the island could amount to US$2.83bn, with cost of the power plant itself coming to US$992m. This was weeks before the Bank of Cyprus and other business leaders said "deep spending cuts are needed fast."
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