2008 Gërdec explosions
|Date||15 March 2008|
|Time||noon (12:05 GMT)|
At approximately noon local time on Saturday 15 March 2008, at an ex-military ammunition depot in the village of Gërdec in the Vorë Municipality, Albania (14 kilometers from Tirana, the nation's capital), U.S and Albanian munitions experts were preparing to destroy stockpiles of obsolete ammunition. The methodical destruction of the old ammo was supposed to occur with a series of small, controlled explosions, but a chain of events led to the entire stockpile going up at once. The main explosion, involving more than 400 tons of propellant in containers, destroyed hundreds of houses within a few kilometers from the depot and broke windows in cars on the Tirana-Durrës highway. A large fire caused a series of smaller but powerful explosions that continued until 2 a.m. on Sunday. The explosions could be heard as far away as the Macedonian capital of Skopje, 170 km (110 mi) away.
Thousands of artillery shells, most of them un-exploded, littered the area. The blast shattered all the windows of the terminal building at the country's only international airport, and all flights were suspended for some 40 minutes. Some 4,000 inhabitants of the zone were evacuated and offered shelter in state-owned resorts. The Government declared the zone a disaster area. According to subsequent investigations, a privately managed ammo dismantling process was ongoing in the area.
Possible causes include: human error during the work such as lighting a cigarette or damaging a fuse, improper storage of the ammunition, employment of untrained workers without the proper technical knowledge, violation of the technical security rules in the area where the destruction of ammunition took place, and sabotage.
Although existing technologies were employed and adapted for the operations at Gerdec, the techniques of ammunition disposal being used at the time were, and still are (in 2010), new technologies in this field. An error made by engineers who designed the machinery the demilitarisation company and associates employed on the project used. A fundamental design assumption made early in the design process rendered the basic machinery potentially lethal. Researchers and designers of the ammunition disposal kilns assumed the combustible compounds within the ammunition would burn away at 350 degrees Celsius. Documents available from the US military state, and thermochemical and thermodynamic calculations will verify the combustible compounds within the ammunition being disposed of at Gerdec burn to give out a heat amounting to 4500 degrees Celsius. Such an energy would, without further sufficient and adequate designed machine components, lead to vaporization and explosion of the machines used to dispose of the ammunition dumps.
Some proponents of conspiracy theories have argued that the explosions might have been an act of sabotage ahead of Albania’s entry to NATO few weeks later. However, these claims have not been validated.
The repacking/dismantling of ammunition at the dump was being carried out by an Albanian company that had been subcontracted by Southern Ammunition Company Inc. (SAC) of Loris, South Carolina, a U.S. company. SAC won the contract to destroy ammunition in Albania through industrial dismantling.
SAC was contracted in 2006 by the Albanian Ministry of Defence for the deactivation of 100 million 7.62 mm bullets, 20 million 12.7 mm bullets, and 20 million 14.5 mm bullets. A second contract involved ammunition from 40 mm up to 152 mm.
After signing the contract with the MoD, SAC subcontracted the work to Alb-Demil, an Albanian subcontractor.
Officially, Albanian authorities confirmed 26 deaths in the explosions. Officials report the number of injured people at over 300. According to figures published by the Prime Minister's Office, 2,306 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the explosions. Of these, 318 houses were destroyed completely, 200 buildings were seriously damaged, and 188 buildings were less seriously damaged.
There were 26 victims: Qemal Deliu, Kore Deliu, Liljana Deliu, Jetmir Deliu, Flavio Deliu (3 years old), Hysen Cani, Muhamet Hoxha, Besim Çanga, Roland Alla, Reshit Kruja, Mehmet Hazizi, Bukurie Cani, Arben Hasa, Zilie Kaca, Endri Dvorani, Shefki Cani, Zelije Leti, Ilirjan Malci, Shqipe Hasa, Azem Hamolli, Nafije Laçi, Zylfije Ahmeti, Erison Durda (10 years old), Rajmonda Durda, Jetmir Ballazhi, and Resmie Kranja.
Political consequences and investigation
As part of an investigation by the Albanian General Prosecution Office, authorities issued arrest orders for Mihail Delijorgji (president of the Alb-Demil Company), Ylli Pinari (director of MEICO, a state-controlled enterprise managed by the Ministry of Defence and authorized under Albanian laws to deal with the export and import of military goods), and Dritan Minxholi (an executive director with Alb-Demil).
A special group of prosecutors and investigators from Tirana, along with experts from the Albanian Ministry of Interior, the Tirana State Police, EOD specialists, military engineers and military police were said to be studying the facts of the case and collecting witnesses declarations.
The investigation group was expected to publish the names of the officials involved in the tragedy by the beginning of April 2008. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) accepted a request from the Albanian General Prosecutors Office (GPO) to assist the investigation.
On September 12, 2008, Kosta Trebicka, a whistleblower of the case who had directly accused the son of then Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha of involvement in this case, died under mysterious circumstances on a rural road in southern Albania.
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