Cyprus assesses security, safety threats of submerged ammo dumps

June 11, 2013 at 12:05 AM
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ZYGI, Cyprus, June 11 (UPI) -- The discovery of vast amounts of dumped ammunition on the Mediterranean seabed off Cyprus has raised security questions, the country's defense chief says.

Cypriot Defense Minister Fotis Fotiou said Saturday the Cabinet is assessing the potential threat to Cyprus' security as well as to human safety and the environment from the munitions dumped off the coast from the fishing village of Zygi.

The discovery could also have implications for Cyprus' natural gas infrastructure plans.

A report issued by the Cypriot national guard found it had dumped about 167 types of armaments along the seabed in huge quantities between 1980 and 1993, when such dumping was a common practice among many nations before being banned.

The report came after Cyprus had been asked by the United Nations about its past practices of dumping of munitions at sea as part of an environmental assessment.

The list of munitions includes grenades, mines, mortar shells, missiles, rockets, grenades, tanks and cartridges, the Nicosia daily Phileleftheros reported.

Human life may be endangered because ocean currents can move the submerged ammunition, even over long distances, and become washed ashore, posing immediate risks to citizens.

Fishermen are also at risk from hooking the explosives, while the potential for environmental damage is also high, the national guard said.

Fotiou said Saturday a probe has been launched into the matter and that it's likely Cyprus will seek international help in tackling the problem, Kathimerini reported.

The defense minister said he is assessing "security issues, issues of environmental pollution, health, fisheries and possibly the affects on the energy planning of the Republic," adding that the Cabinet had decided to appoint experts to "evaluate the whole situation and make recommendations with respect to actions to be implemented immediately."

Fotiou said he has contacted with the governments of Greece and Israel to tap their expertise in similar incidents and announced he would also contact the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for assistance.

"We will do what is possible and what is required," he said. "It is a sensitive issue that has come to our attention now. Above all, what matters is the safety of people, the risks to the environment and the effect on energy planning."

Asked by the newspaper whether there is data on the coordinates of the arms, the defense minister replied that limited information does exist.

"It's a series [of] ammo dumps of mines, grenades [and] tank ammunition," he said, adding it's "just a given" that some of the cache may have moved over time.

The United Nations peacekeeping force on the divided island is being involved in the planning for dealing with the dumped munitions, Fotiou added, saying the U.N. force has asked for a threat assessment.

There are also energy industry implications with the discovery, since the area around Zygi -- located roughly halfway between Larnaca and Limassol along the southern Mediterranean coast -- has been slated to host a liquefied natural gas terminal.

Those plans could be affected by the safety risk, with consequences to Cyprus' energy security and economic recovery.

But Fotiou said it was still too early to assess how the dumped ammo could affect the LNG plans.

"To avoid giving the wrong signals right now, I do not know yet whether this development will create problems regarding our plans for energy," he said, indicating that the matter should be dealt with as quickly as possible to head off future problems.

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