Cyprus Mail

Deputy fire chief and disaster unit boss were ‘undeniably negligent’ at Mari

By Constantinos Psillides

FORMER deputy chief of the fire service Charalambos Charalambous and former head of disaster response team EMAK Andreas Loizides were undeniably negligent when they didn’t order the evacuation of Mari naval base, state attorney Christina Kythreotou said yesterday.

The state attorney appeared before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Attorney-general’s office to appeal the sentences handed down by the Larnaca Criminal Court to those convicted in the blast. On July 9, the court convicted then defence minister Costas Papacostas on the charge of manslaughter (five years imprisonment), while former fire chief Andreas Nicolaou, deputy fire chief Charalambous and EMAK commander Loizides were found guilty of negligent manslaughter and sentenced to two years of imprisonment. The then foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou was acquitted.

The Attorney-general’s office said that the court of first instance was very lenient, and decided to appeal the verdicts. The convicted also lodged appeals.

The Attorney-general’s asked that Loizides and Charalambous be convicted for manslaughter, which carries the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Charalambous and Loizides were found guilty of negligent manslaughter due to reckless and dangerous acts, which carries the maximum sentence of four years.

Kythreotou argued that both of them had adequate information to positively appraise the risk of an explosion and should have issued orders to evacuate, which they negligently failed to do, she said.

“It has been made abundantly clear that Charalambous and Loizides were better informed of the risk of explosion than sergeant Papadopoulos, who was at the scene on July 11,” she said.

Kythreotou further argued that fire sergeant Andreas Papadopoulos, who lost his life in the blast, couldn’t possibly have a complete idea of what was going on, since there was no way he could reach the site where the containers were stored. The state attorney asserted that since Papadopoulos was in constant contact with Loizides, Charalambous and Nicolaou, he should have been told to evacuate the area.

“Further, as it was impossible for Papadopoulos to approach the containers due to the fire, heat and minor explosions, his ability to assess the risk of a general explosion was inferior to that of Charalambous and Loizides.”

Earlier in the proceedings, Charalambous’ attorney argued that his client was not formally informed that the munitions were in Cyprus until July 5, due to the secrecy imposed on the matter by the army.

Loizides’ defence is that he arrived on the scene – on instructions from Charalambous – only a minute before the blast and thus could not be blamed for negligence.

The state attorney was also expected to argue against the acquittal of former foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou, who was acquitted of the charge of causing death through reckless and dangerous acts. The court decided to postpone the hearing for May 7.

On Monday, Polina Efthivoulou, another state attorney, argued against the appeal by Papacostas, who maintains he was wrongly convicted. Papacostas was sentenced to five years in prison by the Criminal Court but has yet to spend a day behind bars, having been hospitalised shortly after his conviction.

In early 2009 Cyprus seized a cargo of nearly 100 munitions containers from the Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk that was en route to Syria from Iran in violation of a UN Security Council resolution.

The containers were subsequently left to boil under the sun at the Mari naval base for two years until the munitions eventually exploded on July 11, 2011, killing seven sailors and six firemen who were trying to put out the fires that broke out at the storage site.

The blast also caused extensive damage to the nearby energy plant of Vasilikos, leading to rolling blackouts throughout the island.

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