Thursday 11 July 2013

St Barbara

This morning I was rather hypocritically chidding RTE for making a show out of the tragedy at West Texas in April this year while doing pretty much the same myself about the tragedy 35 years ago in Los Alfaques.  But I couldn't help noticing that Wikipedia was remembering a much greater BANG than either of these that happened in Cyprus just two years ago. 

There is a strange trade in maritime shipping.  Ships have to be registered somewhere and they used to be registered in the country where the owners operated.  In a globalised world it is often not clear where home is for a particular company.  Even before globalisation, countries like Liberia, Panama and Cyprus would offer to register ships, regardless of where the company paid its taxes, for much less money than First World economies like Britain or the USA.  A nice little earner for what became known as flags of convenience.  Except when a ship flying your flag is detected doing something that displeases, say, Hilary Clinton.  Wikileaks suggest that, when a Cypriot registered, Russian owned freighter was intercepted by the US Navy carrying munitions from Iran to Syria via the Suez Canal, the Cypriot government was asked to deal with their ship.

So the Monchegorsk was escorted to a Cypriot port and a hundred shipping containers full of artillery shells, gunpowder, Magnesium primers and other fireworks was unloaded onto the dock.  The Cypriot government was then in a quandary because they are neighbours with Syria which had paid for the shells and didn't want to offend them by sending the stuff off to be disposed of by NATO.  So they left everything on the quayside at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base for a couple of years until a fire broke out one night in one of the containers which cause a bit of a bang.  Enough of a commotion in any case to get the fire-brigade down and have someone phone up Captain Andreas Ioannides the head of the Cypriot Navy.  Ninety minutes after the first small explosion the whole lot went up, killing Ioannides, the base commander Lambros Lambrou and a dozen others, half of them firefighters.  Given that this was the 7th largest non-nuclear explosion ever (much bigger than Sailor Hat), the death toll could have been worse.  The economic consequences were enormous, however, because the explosion took out the largest power-station on the island and damaged hundreds of other buildings.  Cost of making it all good is estimated to be €2bn, half of it for a new power-station.  Considering that the GDP for the country is €23bn (about 10% of Ireland's) that's a lot of sugar. 

Somewhere along the route "flag of convenience" morphed into "flag of consequences" for Cyprus.  St Barbara is the patron saint of  artillerymen and bombardiers, maybe her feast day could be changed from 4th December to 11th July?

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