The Blast in Cyprus and SEESAC Activities

On 11 July 2011, 13 people were killed and about 60 injured in a massive blast at a munitions dump in Cyprus. A fire reportedly ignited 98 containers holding confiscated explosives at the naval base at Zygi. The main electricity plant was damaged, causing widespread power cuts that could last for months. This is said to be the worst disaster to hit Cyprus since the 2005 aircraft crash in Greece that killed 121.

The events in Cyprus are not unique however. Unexpected explosions have also been reported in South-eastern European countries. In March 2008, an explosion occurred at an ex-military ammunition depot in Gerdec, Albania, causing 26 deaths and more than 300 injures. In 2009, seven people died and fourteen were injured when an explosion took place in the munitions factory "Prvi Partizan" in Uzice, Serbia. 

As these incidents indicate, unexpected explosion at munitions sites can result in significant damage to people, infrastructure and economic activities. There are numerous causes for unexpected explosions at munitions sites. Most derive from a lack of technical knowledge and uneven attention to safety standards[1]. Poor storage practices and poor infrastructure together cause more than half of the known explosions[2]. This means that the risks are significantly reduced or mitigated when stockpiles are maintained effectively. However, some countries do not have the capacity and/or resources to secure stocks in safe conditions.

SEESAC has provided assistance for stockpile management of SALW and ammunitions to South-eastern Europe countries. SEESAC has developed training modules on planning and managing stockpile locations, inventory management and accounting control measures and transport security for officials responsible for material resources. In addition, SEESAC has provided technical and infrastructure assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro. The reconstruction of the ammunition storage site ‘Taras’ in Montenegro, which opened in May 2011, is one of the more recent SEESAC projects of this kind. Another SEESAC-supported activity is the provision of the new safety equipment, which included 21 bulletproof vests, 21 protective helmets, six ballistic containers and six anti-explosive kits, received by the Croatian bomb squad in February 2011.

The destruction of surplus stocks is also an effective way to increase security and diminish the risks of unexpected explosion. SEESAC has provided technical advice and assistance for the development and implementation of safe, efficient and effective destruction initiatives across the South Eastern and Eastern Europe region. In fact, SEESAC has contributed to the destruction of 240,341 pieces of SALW and ammunition since 2002 (For example, see Croatia, and Serbia activities).This assistance and support is enhanced by the development of the Regional Micro-Disarmament Standard and Guidelines on SALW Destruction.

Through its activities, SEESAC has supported regional effort to address the threats posed by excess, unstable, loosely secured or otherwise at-risk stockpiles of SALW and ammunitions and in turn helped prevent accidents such as that in Cyprus. However, there still exists the need for further assistance to ensure the effective stockpile management and the destruction of surplus ammunition. SEESAC will continue to cooperate with countries in South-eastern Europe with that purpose in mind.


[1] Small Arms Survey, Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites, Research Note no. 6, May 2011, p. 2.

[2] Ibid., p. 2.