By Stefanos Evripidou
THE SEA around Zygi village is littered with 167 different types of munitions dumped by the National Guard (NG) over two decades ago, posing potential risks to human safety, the environment and the government’s energy plans, said Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou on Saturday.
Speaking at a press conference, Fotiou confirmed a report in Phileleftheros that for a period of 13 years, the NG followed a practice of dumping “a large quantity” of expired munitions in the sea- 167 different types to be exact, including mines, hand grenades, tank grenades, missiles and rockets.
The issue came to the government’s attention after the UN requested information from the Cypriot authorities, as with many other countries, on the possible existence of chemical munitions and their possible dumping in the sea, with all the negative consequences that might have on the environment.
The ministry requested an update from the NG, which confirmed that from 1980 to 1993, munitions were dumped in the sea.
“It appears there is a large quantity of such munitions of various types, which were dumped in the wider region around Zygi,” said Fotiou.
While there is some indication as to where the munitions were dumped, the minister noted that it was not possible to confirm their exact location or their condition “because this took place at different time intervals between 1980 and 1993 and at different points in the sea area of that region”.
There is also the likelihood that strong currents moved the munitions away from their original location.
The minister noted the practice of dumping expired munitions in the sea was a common one at the time around the world, until alternative methods for their destruction were found, and the practice was banned in 1993.
Fotiou said he immediately informed the president and cabinet, which discussed the matter at its last meeting, where the decision was taken to appoint experts to evaluate the situation and make recommendations on what needs to be done.
The minister said the dumping of munitions in the sea likely raised issues of “security, environmental pollution, health, fishing and a possible impact on the Republic’s energy plans”.
Zygi is just a stone’s throw from Mari where 13 people were killed in July 2011 after Iranian munitions exploded under the sun, and Vassilikos, where the government plans to develop a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, among other energy projects.
Fotiou said he has already contacted the authorities in Israel and Greece for assistance, since both countries have faced similar experiences, and plans to contact the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) to request assistance on Monday.
He will also speak with Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis to discuss whether any precautionary measures need to be taken for those fishing in the area.
“We will do everything possible and necessary. It is a sensitive issue which only came to our attention now. Above all, what matters is the safety of people, the dangers to the environment, and the possible impact on our energy plans.”
He added: “So as not to send the wrong messages, at this moment, I do not know yet whether these developments will create problems regarding energy plans.”
If problems do arise, then the government will take immediate action, he said.