WASHINGTON, D.C. /eNewsChannels/ — The Department of State successfully concluded a $14.5 million program to support Albania as it works to clear safely the site of a deadly 2008 munitions explosion. The program removed 3,085 tons of unexploded ordnance and 146,500 pieces of dangerous munitions.
The March 15, 2008 explosions at a former military base in Gerdec resulted in 26 deaths and over 300 people injured, and forced more than 700 families from their homes. Unexploded ordnance was thrown several kilometers from the blast epicenter, posing lingering hazards to emergency responders and complicating recovery efforts. This tragedy highlights the challenges posed by old, unstable Cold War-era munitions, and the need for governments to properly maintain and dispose of excess arms inventories.
At the request of Albanian authorities, the United States offered assistance and arranged for an expert assessment followed by the clearance of unexploded artillery shells, mortar shells, and other munitions. For nearly five years, technical experts from ITF Enhancing Human Security, Sterling International, and EOD Solutions funded by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs trained and supervised local Albanian workers who cleared 257 acres of unexploded munitions up to 8 meters deep, including giant craters caused by the massive explosions.
The teams recovered over 734 tons of metal from munitions and other blast debris and turned this scrap, worth millions of dollars, over to the Albanian Ministry of Defense. In addition, thousands of dollars worth of equipment used at Gerdec is being donated by the United States to the Albanian Mine and Munitions Coordination Office to continue clearance at former military sites throughout the country. Parts of Gerdec remain contaminated and, as with any munitions incident of this magnitude, it is likely that explosives will continue to be found at the site for the foreseeable future as deep-buried munitions work their way to the surface.
Since 2001, the United States has partnered with over 90 countries to promote safe disposal of surplus and aging arms and munitions, including more than 1.6 million small arms and light weapons, nearly 33,000 man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and more than 90,000 tons of munitions. For more information, visit our website at http://www.state.gov/t/pm/index.htm.