The Cypriot Navy?s chief of staff, Andreas Ioannides, and a military base commander, Lambros Lambrou, were among at least 12 people killed on Monday in an explosion at a munitions facility that prompted the resignations of armed forces commander Petros Tsalikides and Defense Minister Costas Papacostas. The other 10 victims were army officers and firefighters. At least 60 more were injured in the blast which also knocked out the island?s main power station, disrupting electricity supplies.
Firemen were called to the navy base in Zygi, on the island?s southern coast between Larnaca and Limassol, at around 4.30 a.m. to curb a fire that had broken out at a munitions facility. Shortly before 6 a.m., locals reported hearing a huge explosion that sprayed debris hundreds of meters from the depot.
Defense officials said an investigation into the cause of the blast had yet to yield any results.
In a written statement, Cyprus government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the explosion had occurred in a facility storing munitions confiscated from an Iranian ship Cyprus authorities intercepted in 2009. The vessel had been en route to Syria in violation of UN sanctions. Stefanou added that ministry officials had discussed the storage conditions at the munitions facility last week. ?Decisions were taken on protecting the material but unfortunately there was not enough time for these decisions to be implemented,? he said.
The munitions, which had been stored in shipping containers, had started to warp recently, sources said, adding that experts had called for them to be kept at cooler temperatures before being destroyed.
According to a US State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks, the munitions stored in the containers comprised powerful explosives including compressed gunpowder.