President Nikos Christodoulides, addresses the memorial service for the heroes of Mari.

Cyprus marks 12 years since deadly Mari blast

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Cyprus paid tribute to the 13 soldiers and firefighters who died after badly stored Iranian munitions exploded at the Mari naval base on July 11, 2011, shocking a nation and causing rolling power cuts.

Tuesday marked 12 years since the tragic event, the island’s biggest peacetime disaster, with the state holding a memorial service at a monument to those who died.

“We must have the procedures and mechanisms in place to avoid such tragedies again,” said President Nikos Christodoulides, adding that only through these policies will we show in practice that we honour the memory of the people who lost their lives in the tragic event.

In comments to journalists, following a memorial service for the Mari heroes at the “Evangelos Florakis” naval base, the president said that, “all of us who choose to get involved in public life must realise that we have the responsibility to protect citizens, to ensure that procedures and mechanisms are in place so that we do not experience such tragedies again”.

Asked if in the 12 years that have passed enough has been done to prevent the repetition of such a tragedy, he said that “in security matters there is never enough, it is something that should be evaluated, and updated with every passing day”.

The president said that the losses in various incidents involving the national guard over the past several years are all the more tragic for having happened during peace time.

“But I consider that for Mari, the state ought to have done everything possible to avoid it. I feel a share of the responsibility. The state, at the end of the day, is responsible to ensure the safety of its citizens,” Christodoulides continued.

The annual memorial service was held at the site of the tragedy, and was attended by House Speaker Annita Demetriou, the defence minister Michalis Giorgallas, the Ambassador of Greece Ioannis Papameletiou and Limassol mayor Nicos Nicolaides.

Seven sailors and six firemen died in the blast caused by Iranian munitions haphazardly stored at the naval base, when munitions containers exploded at the Mari site in the early hours of July 11, 2011. The most powerful blast happened around 5.30am.

The blast’s shock wave decimated the island’s biggest power station, nearby, which impacted the economy.

Sanction busting

The munitions had been seized from the Monchegorsk, a Cyprus-flagged ship en route to Syria from Iran in February 2009.

The munitions were seized from the ship suspected of transporting them from Iran to Palestinians in Gaza through Syria in breach of a United Nations ban on Iranian arms exports.

Based on bilateral agreements, Cyprus authorities acted on information from the U.S. to intercept the ship and confiscate any weapons.

The containers found on board were stacked in an open space at the Evangelos Florakis base and left exposed to the elements for over two years, despite repeated warnings about the risks.

A public inquiry into the causes of the blast found that the gunpowder had spontaneously combusted after becoming unstable from prolonged exposure to wide temperature swings.