By Peter Stevenson
SUBMERGED munitions off the island’s coast are no immediate danger to the public and do not pose any health risks by contaminating the water, according to Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou.
Fotiou was speaking after a meeting with Health Minister Petros Petrides at the defence ministry where the two discussed environmental pollution and health matters.
Fotiou confirmed on Saturday that the National Guard (NG) had dumped 167 different types of expired munitions, including mines, hand grenades, tank grenades, missiles and rockets, over two decades ago in the sea off Zygi.
The minister told reporters yesterday that a committee of specialists would be assigned to examine whether the munitions could be safely moved.
“The committee’s job is to give us their expert opinion and suggestions on how best to approach the subject,” Fotiou said.
He added that the munitions were around 12 to 13 nautical miles off the coast and at a depth of 500 metres, and were not a danger.
The minister’s statements appeared contradict what he said on Saturday when he spoke potential risks to human safety, the environment and the government’s energy plans.
Present at yesterday’s meeting was Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis, Environment Commissioner Ioanna Panayiotou and representatives from the state fisheries service, environment department, the state laboratory and staff from the National Guard.
Fotiou spoke with the British High Commissioner, Matthew Kidd, about the possibility that British forces may also have dumped munitions in the area and he also spoke with Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon for assistance in removing the ordinance.
“We had the opportunity today with the ministers of health and agriculture and the environment commissioner to examine the whole situation which was created by the dumping of munitions between 1980 and 1993,” Fotiou said.
“Instructions have been given to all of the relevant departments to examine the whole situation and to see what checks need to be carried out,” the minister said.
Fotiou said the most important issue was to calmly evaluate the situation so that an action plan could be developed.
“Today we dealt with the subjects of the food chain and the environment but in meetings scheduled for later this week we will deal with the munitions which will most likely require assistance from foreign specialists,” Fotiou added.
He was asked to allay fears of any possible explosions in the area and told reporters that currently there should be no cause for panic.
“What is of the utmost importance is for us to correctly evaluate the situation so we can avoid any problems which may arise although we are not in a position to announce anything right now,” he said.
“The munitions have been there for decades but it is our responsibility now that the subject has been brought to our attention to evaluate and deal with any possible dangers,” he added.
Petrides said that no data was currently available after being asked if there had been any possible leaks in the munitions containers that could have contaminated the water in the area.
“The food is safe and there is no contamination of the environment although instructions have been given to reassess the situation,” he said.
He added that the State Laboratory has given him assurances that there is nothing to worry about.