By George Psyllides
The pain of the tragic and needless loss of 13 men in a naval base munitions explosion in 2011 will forever weigh on peoples’ consciousness and highlight the inadequacy of the state, President Nicos Anastasiades said on Saturday.
In a speech at a memorial service to mark the fourth anniversary of the Mari blast, the president said the loss of the seven sailors and six firemen on July 11, 2011 reflects state negligence but would “guide our steps on the path towards our country’s future”.
“We bow with respect to their honour, repeating our apology for all that we ought but failed to do as a state,” Anastasiades said.
He pledged that such mistakes would never be repeated.
The July 11, 2011 blast was caused by munitions haphazardly stored at the Evangelos Florakis naval base.
The munitions, stored in 98 containers, had been confiscated in 2009 from a Cyprus-flagged ship en route to Syria.
They were then stacked in an open space at the base and left exposed to the elements until the day of the explosion, despite repeated warnings about the risks.
Beyond the loss of life, the blast incapacitated the island’s biggest power station, located next door, which had a crippling effect on the already ailing economy.
On Saturday, Anastasiades said the government has decided to set up a committee that will deal with issues faced by the relatives of the victims.
“The death of our lads must unite us and charge us with the responsibility to go ahead with those changes that would make the July 11, 2011 tragedy the start of a new era, for a modern well-governed state,” Anastasiades said.
In the aftermath of the blast, then president Demetris Christofias appointed lawyer Polys Polyviou to investigate the causes.
Polyviou found Christofias as being mainly responsible for the tragedy while foreign and defence ministers Marcos Kyprianou and Costas Papacostas were also blamed.
Christofias rejected the findings and accused Polyviou of overstepping his mandate.
The disaster saw former defence minister Costas Papacostas jailed for five years after being found guilty of manslaughter.
Senior fireman Charalambos Charalambous and Andreas Loizides, former commander of the disaster response team EMAK had been jailed for two years for causing death due to reckless and dangerous acts.
Fire service chief Andreas Nicolaou was jailed for two years but the sentence was later overturned by the Supreme Court and he has since returned to his post.
Former minister Marcos Kyprianou, who was also charged in connection with the incident, was acquitted. The verdict was later upheld by the Supreme Court.