The head of Cyprus’ navy, Andreas Ioannides, was one of 12 people killed when seized containers of gunpowder exploded at its main base. The commander of the Evangelos Florakis base, Lambros Lambrou, also died.

Cyprus authorities confirmed that 12 people were killed and 62 injured in a powerful blast caused by exploding munitions at the “Evangelos Florakis” Naval Base at Zygi, near Limassol, early on Monday morning.

Fifty of the 62 people injured were discharged from hospital after receiving first aid treatment while two of the remaining 12 were reported to be in serious condition.

The Cyprus cabinet had declared public mourning from Monday until Wednesday and the funerals of those killed will be held at public expense.

The defence minister and military chief have resigned over the incident, which officials said occurred after a bushfire ignited the explosives.

A government spokesman has said a recent meeting concluded that safety at the site needed to be improved. But the recommendations had not yet been implemented, he added.

The comments came after Ioannides’ son said senior officials had repeatedly ignored his warnings about the condition of the containers.

Greece expressed grief over the accident at a naval station on Cyprus and said it was on stand-by to provide all assistance needed.

Among the 12 victims were five fire-fighters, four members of the National Guard and two sailors. The explosions also caused extensive damage to the nearby Vassiliko power station and rocked surrounding communities, causing extensive damage, especially to the nearby village of Mari. Damage to the power station resulted in extensive power shortages all over Cyprus,

Commerce Minister Antonis Paschalides said the damage to the power station, which produces 60 per cent of the country’s electricity, was a “tragedy of Biblical dimensions”.

Cypriot Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said there was no risk of further explosions, and that foreign experts would be called in to help the police and armed forces, the National Guard, investigate the incident.

In the meantime explosives experts were examining debris taken from the blast site in Zygi, near the southern resort of Larnaca, to establish the cause of the accident.

Stefanou said authorities had launched a criminal investigation into the cause of the blast, adding that Greek and French experts were to help scour the debris for clues.

He said Cypriot authorities had tried several times to off-load the munitions – confiscated from a Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged and Iranian-hired vessel, the Monchegorsk, in January 2009 – but were stopped by the United Nations.

“Our government’s position in this difficult diplomatic issue was that the material not be held in Cyprus,” said Stefanou.

He said Nicosia was obliged to keep the cargo after suggestions of forwarding it to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were rejected, and it received no answer from the Security Council that the material be sent to Germany or Malta.

Source: Athens News