DR Congo

DR Congo: Explosion threat reduced as naval weapons destroyed

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- 1,170 items of ammunition weighing over 17 tons safely destroyed

- The surplus naval stocks posed a high risk of explosion which could have killed or severely injured 3,500 people

- Weapons depot located beside a petroleum company and the port: an accident could have had severe human, economic and ecological consequences

MAG DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) has destroyed surplus naval stocks in Banana, (in Bas-Congo, 2nd Military Region) as part of its Conventional Weapons Management and Disposal (CWMD) programme.

MAG mobile CWMD teams are visiting each Military Region in turn and, with the regional authorities, destroying stocks in bad condition which represent a risk of unplanned explosion, stocks in good condition but which are not being used (in order to prevent their looting and trafficking, or their eventual degradation), and stocks which are illegal to keep (such as anti-personnel mines in countries which are bound by the Ottawa Convention, such as DRC).

In addition, MAG DRC is working to improve the national capacity to manage small arms and light weapons, such as training in the safe conditions for storage of ammunition.

The Naval Base of Banana is located on the Atlantic Ocean, at the western point of the DRC close to the Angolan border. The two main ammunition depots were visited by a CWMD team (funded by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, US Department of State) in October 2008.

In total, 1,170 items of ammunition weighing over 17 tons were destroyed, including five large torpedoes, 74 marine grenades, 919 37mm artillery shells, and 172 6-inch artillery shells dating from the world wars.

These stocks were posing a high threat of unplanned explosion. For example, some marine grenades were in a severely degraded state; the roof of one of the stores had holes in; many people had access to, and were regularly present inside, the store; and a welding workplace was located within one of the ammunition depots, just beside the torpedoes.

An unplanned explosion in those depots could have had severe human, economic and ecological consequences. Civilians live right next to the depots and their children play only metres away from the store.

No fence or any other kind of security measure is keeping the population away, and lodgings have been built around the store. The Technical Field Manager leading the CWMD team in Banana estimated that in the case of an unplanned explosion of the depot containing the torpedoes, about 3,500 people could have been killed or severely injured.

In addition, this depot is located beside a petroleum company and the port: those two main infrastructures, crucial to the local economy, could have been destroyed, and the burning petroleum would have caused air and soil pollution.

It is likely that petrol would also have leaked into the sea, affecting marine life, and possibly contaminating the fish which form the base of the local diet.

The stocks from Banana selected for disposal were destroyed in a series of controlled demolitions on a military training ground in Baki, near Muanda, during October.

The population was informed of the need to stay away from the demolition ground by the local radio, and planes were re-routed away from the site on destruction days. The General of the 2nd Military Region, other military authorities, and the UN Mission to DRC (MONUC) military observers were invited to attend the demolitions.

By destroying these stocks, MAG has significantly reduced the threat of unplanned explosions in the ammunition depots of the Banana naval base, and limited the potential damage in the event that an accidental explosion occurs in the future.

However, the fact remains that if little is done to improve the storage conditions and infrastructures (which will require significant financial investment), some level of threat will remain. Unfortunately, the depots cannot easily be moved away from the population, the port and the petroleum company. Advice on the safe storage of the remaining ammunition was given to the various authorities and, in an official letter, to the head of the Banana naval base.

MAG has now completed the destruction of military stocks selected for disposal in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th Military Regions, and work is ongoing in the 5th and 6th Military Region. Operations in the four remaining Military Regions are planned to take place over the coming year.