Updated 25 July/9 July 2009 - Original Post 12 August 2008
Albania Rocked by Huge Explosions
On Saturday 15 March 2008, a series of huge explosions took place at an arms dump / ammunition depot next to the Village of Gerdec, near the Albanian capital, Tirana and the Country's main airport. Specialists were supposedly dismantling obsolete munitions at the site.
The blasts caused injuries and damage in a wide surrounding area, and were heard more than 170km (100 miles) away in the Macedonian capital Skopje. Some 4,000 people were evacuated. Rescuers were unable to reach the main blast site as ammunition continued to detonate at the dump, many hours after the first blast.
About 100,000 tons of excess ammunition, mostly Russian and Chinese artillery shells made in the 1960s or earlier, are stored in former army depots across Albania. Albania has pledged to dispose of the ammunition by 2010, and is receiving assistance from the U.S., Canada and other NATO countries. The blasts smashed windows at Tirana's nearby international airport, and prompted a brief suspension of flights.
The base was a central collection point for an arsenal amassed by Albania's former communist dictatorship. Two days after the explosions, the Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu stepped down after the main opposition Socialist Party demanded that he and conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha resign over the blasts.
In June, Albania's army chief of staff (Lt. Gen. Luan Hoxha) was fired because of the accident at the ammunition depot. Shortly afterwards, parliament voted to allow the prosecution of a former defense minister over the same accident.
On 25 July, three people, including a Defense Ministry employee, were charged with murder in connection with the massive explosions at the ammunition disposal factory that killed 26 people and injured 300. Ylli Pinari of the Defense Ministry's Meico arms sale company was charged with murder, along with Mihal Delijorgji, owner of the Alb Demil ammunition disposal company, and his manager, Dritan Minxholli. The three have been jailed since the explosions on charges of negligence and breach of duty.
They want to keep this tragedy clean by claiming it was an act of negligence.
'To arm Afghan forces to fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the U.S. has relied on a fledgling company, that has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old. Some of it was in such poor shape that it was not used. Problems with old munitions were exposed recently after explosions at an Albanian depot.
AEY’s Ammunition: Ain’t An April Fools, Alas - 3 April 2008 - Defense Industry Daily
Reports indicate that AEY shopped across the former Eastern Bloc for Soviet-caliber small arms ammunition, including significant business with Albania whose stocks are considered substandard. That business was reportedly conducted through Evdin Ltd. in Cyprus, and its terms raise issues on two fronts. One is the possibility of corruption in Albania, using Evdin as a middleman firm to divide the profits with officials while remaining outside of US government accountability. Another is the issue of sourcing, given that millions of those rounds were produced in China and may thereby violate American law.
“As of today, the Army has issued five task orders, collectively worth $155.3 million, the official said. AEY has made about 80 deliveries, with an estimated value of $54.6 million, into Kabul. Those deliveries violated two specific terms of the contract, the official said. One stated that the ammunition could not be acquired directly or indirectly from the People’s Republic of China, and the other specified that it must be packaged to comply with best commercial practices for international shipment.”
“But problems with the ammunition were evident last fall (2007) in places like Nawa, Afghanistan, an outpost near the Pakistani border, where an Afghan lieutenant colonel surveyed the rifle cartridges on his police station’s dirty floor. Soon after arriving there, the cardboard boxes had split open and their contents spilled out, revealing ammunition manufactured in China in 1966. “This is what they give us for the fighting,” said the colonel, Amanuddin, who like many Afghans has only one name. “It makes us worried, because too much of it is junk.”
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Wiki - Gerdec Explosions
DANGEROUS DEPOTS: The Growing Humanitarian Problem Posed by Ageing and Poorly Maintained Munitions Storage Sites Around the World - 4 August 2008 - US Department of State
Albania: 3 charged with murder over deadly arms-disposal factory blast - 25 July 2008 - IHT
Albanian army chief fired over deadly ammunition dump blast - 16 June 2008 - IHT
Albania's defense minister resigns over arms depot blast that killed 16 - Monday 17 March 2008 - IHT
Albania Rocked by Huge Explosions - Saturday, 15 March 2008 - BBC
A Selection of Video footage of the Gerdec Explosions, Albania
Albania to donate excess army ammunition to Iraq and Afghanistan - 12 December 2007 - IHT
Albania wants to donate its surplus ammunition to Iraq and Afghanistan to help those countries build up their armed forces, the Defense Minister said. The impoverished Balkan country's army has already destroyed some 46,000 of tons of ammunition and is continuing the process as part of a program to scrap excess weaponry by 2010.
Born: Monday 22 July 1946 Died: Sunday 19 May 2002 - Aged 55
In Memory of Joseph Limprecht, US Ambassador to Albania, who tragically died on Sunday, 19 May 2002 in the scenic Lura Lakes, only days before permanently leaving Albania for good. Cause of his death: Heart Failure.
US State Department Ambassador to Albania (1999-2002)
US State Department Deputy Chief of Mission, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (1996-1999)
US State Department Deputy Director, Office of Israel & Arab-Israeli Affairs & Later Division Chief in State's Personnel Bureau (1991-1996)
US State Department Narcotics Affairs Officer, Islamabad, Pakistan (1988-1991)
US State Department Public Safety Advisor, US Mission in Berlin, East Germany (1985-1988)
Washington DC (1981-1985)
Harvard - Masters in Public Administration (1980-1981)
US State Department Vice Consul, Bonn, Germany (1978-80)
US State Department 1st Job, Deputy Desk Officer Spanish Desk (1975-1978) - At the time of the Accession of Juan Carlos, the birth of a democratic monarchy in Spain and the twin jumbo jet disaster in the Canary Islands in 1977.
Joseph Limprecht married Nancy Silverman in 1969. Their daughter Alma was born in 1976, and Eleanor followed in 1977. In between their births he was diagnosed and was successfully treated for Hodgkins Disease.
And in memory of a distant relation of mine (who I never met), Joseph (Joe) Swire (Died 1978) who endeavored to open the Eyes of the World to Albania in the early 20th Century. His authoritarian publications include: King Zog's Albania and Albania: The Rise of a Kingdom. He also entered the Spanish Civil War as Reuters Correspondent, with some essential assistance from his Basque chauffeur, Eduardo. .