US Announces End of Blasted Bulgarian Ammo Depot Clean-up
US Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick has announced the successful clean-up completed with US funding of the Chelopechene munitions depot near Bulgaria's Sofia which exploded in July 2008.
Warlick, alongside Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Defense Valentin Radev, announced the successful conclusion of a massive .18 million effort funded by the United States to clean up unexploded ordnance (UXO) that infested the grounds and nearby water areas for several kilometers around the Chelopechene munitions depot following a 2008 explosion, the US Embassy in Sofia announced Wednesday in a statement.
The land the US helped to clean and the waters of the adjoining nature preserve, river, ponds, and reservoir are now restored to their original condition, the Embassy said.
Ambassador Warlick and Deputy Minister Radev toured the site on July 25, 2012, with the director of the Slovenian non-governmental organization ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF), Dorijan Marsic, and the president of Sterling International, William Wade, the American company which was sub-contracted to complete the sub surface clearance work.
"Nearly one year ago, we gathered here to commemorate the start of this important project. I'm very pleased to be here today once again with Deputy Minister Radev to officially end operations. As you know, our partnership here at Chelopechene began the first day of the explosions. By the end of that terrible day the Embassy had already contacted Washington to determine how best we could help. That summer, the U.S. Government spent nearly 0,000 to provide the surface cleanup. Some of you were here and remember that in some places there were knee-high piles of smoldering, unstable munitions. This was very dangerous work that took nearly a year to complete," said Ambassador Warlick.
Last year, work began to clear 33,000 square meters of land at the epicenter of the explosions to a depth of nearly 1 meter and to clear over 220,000 square meters of nearby waterways, the US Embassy in Sofia pointed out.
Over the course of the year, over 130,000 live UXO and over 70 tons of scrap munitions were extracted from the ground. From the nearby reservoir, river, and ponds, 2,623 kilograms of UXO and dangerous scrap were removed successfully by the Montenegrin-based Regional Center for Underwater Demining, which was also sub-contracted to the ITF with U.S. funding.
"I am very pleased to report that over the past few years the Embassy has been working closely with the Ministry of Defense to prevent another incident like the one that occurred at Chelopechene from ever happening again. I applaud the Government of Bulgaria for its commitment to reducing its excess munitions and to properly storing them. We look forward to our future cooperation on this important issue," added Ambassador Warlick.
The US Embassy in Sofia stressed that the United States is a leading donor for conventional weapons destruction around the world, having provided nearly 2 billion since 1993 to destroy military arms and munitions, help clean up munitions depots that have blown up, clear landmines, provide mine risk education, and render mine survivors assistance in more than 90 countries.
On July 3, 2008, in what has been Bulgaria's "most impressive" incident of its kind, the military storage site near the village of Chelopechene right outside of the Bulgarian capital Sofia exploded, with blasts lingering for days. The explosions engulfed explosive processing facilities with 2 500 metric tons of conventional munitions and 20 tons of TNT. Nobody got injured but the residents of the villages of Chelopech and Chepintsi, deemed districts of Sofia, were evacuated.
Around 7 am on July 3, 2008 the capital Sofia was shaken by powerful gunpowder explosions, initially causing panic among the two-and-a-half million residents of the Bulgarian capital as the authorities including the Defense Ministry, the General Staff of the Army, and the Interior Ministry failed to react and explain the causes of the explosions for almost an hour after they started.
Fortunately, no one was killed or injured in the Chelopechene explosions, but the blasts did cause material damages in the northern suburbs of Sofia. The conventional explosives continued to go off for days after the initial blasts were over, and it took the authorities several weeks to secure the site.
The munitions storehouse explosions at Sofia's Chelopechene led the US State Department to include Bulgaria in the list of states with poorly maintained munitions depots. It said Bulgaria is the only NATO and EU member state with exploding munitions facilities.
According to a report by the US State Department, the Chelopechene incident, which panicked more than two million people in Sofia, together with a similar one in Uzbekistan on July 10, are "the latest in a series of incidents spanning many years and among the most recent manifestations of an international problem that has worsened since the end of the Cold War - government arms depots filled with ageing, unstable, poorly maintained, improperly stored, and weakly guarded munitions."
The US State Department concluded that such high-risk military storage facilities could cause more casualties every year that landmines and other explosive remnants of wars
After the blast the Bulgarian Prosecutor's Office ordered a complex fire and explosion expert report, but the cause remains unclear and no one has been indicted.
In mid-October 2011, the Defense Ministry reported that a large amount of explosives was missing from Chelopechene.
14 unexploded 85-millimeter projectiles disappeared from Chelopechene then.
Authorities in Bulgaria established the perpetrators and two men with criminal records were arrested. They made full confessions and collaborated with military police with giving details on how the theft occurred and on the current location of the stolen explosives.
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