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Prisoners of arsenals

Valery Valkov, RusNavy.com editor-in-chief

On November 13, 2009 a fire occurred at Navy Arsenal 31 in Ulyanovsk while ammo utilization; the fire ignited explosion of other ammunitions stored at the warehouse. Two servicemen died, 60 suffered, six were hospitalized. Panes of the 223 houses were broken out and 24 houses located in close proximity to the ammunition depot were damaged.

Citizens and suburban living around armament depots or factories have accommodated themselves to hazardous neighborhood as arsenals like any big company give job and service places. But everything changed in a blink. Under cannonade of bursts people suddenly realized they're prisoners of arsenals.

Early in the 20th century the world got used to hardships of WW1 but was shocked by the tragedy of small Canadian port town. It seemed to be alike hundreds and thousands harbor settlements scattered worldwide which population live on that meager incomes of port job and sea.

On December 6, 1917 a French ship named Mont Blanc called at the port of Halifax; the vessel's cargo was 3,000 tonnes of explosives loaded in New York. In the morning of December 7, leaving the narrow harbor to the convoy forming area, the ship collided with Norwegian vessel Imo. That caused detonation of the cargo. Explosion not only scuppered both vessels, it literally wiped off the town in a flash 1,963 died, about 9,000 were wounded (including 500 became blind due to panes shattered apart), 25,000 bereft of home, over 2,000 were missed.

In the evening of July 17, 1944 an ammo detonation happened at Chicago port embarkation quay (currently Concord base, US) while loading Victory-class transport vessel. That was a transshipment base for ammunition delivery to Pacific theater; the blast caused ignition of all stored and shipped ammo. Explosions destructed moored ships, quays, settlement and all neighboring infrastructure. 320 died momentarily.

In USSR, despite circumspect organization of storage and security at large military depots, such tragedies also happened time to time. The only difference that they became known not by the media but through eyewitnesses.

Here are some of them:

In 1954 an ammunition depot in Taltsy settlement (Primorsky Krai) blew up because of arson. That tragedy will repeat in almost half a century.

In 1984 Northern Fleet was brought to highest degree of readiness. The reason was the emergency multiple explosions at depots of the fleet's main ammunition base near Okolnaya Harbor. Thrown cigarette butt ignited stack of cruise missile powder boosters; they hopped off like giant petards and fell down on other ammo depots, in Kola Bay, on embarkation quays where two subs and 7th squadron ships moored. Severomorsk was preparing to evacuation and only selfless activities of sailors and firefighters saved main base of Northern Fleet from tremendous disaster.

In 1992 shell storages exploded at one of Vladivostok's districts.

In May 1994 blowups thundered at ammunition depot of Pacific Fleet naval aviation near Vladivostok.

In 1996 the arsenal exploded at Novonezhino settlement.

In November 1997 mine and torpedo storehouse blasted at Gornostai Harbor nearby Vladivostok.

In April 1998 shells detonated at ordnance depot in Baranovo-Orenburgskoye settlement.

In May 2000 blowups of artillery munitions thundered at Rzhev Range near St. Petersburg.

In June 2001 a fire occurred at air ammunition depot in Chita region.

In July 2001 ammunition depots exploded in Buryatia.

In October 2002 a fire happened at ammunition dump near Vladivostok.

In July 2003 carriages with shipborne 35-mm and 25-mm shells exploded at Pacific Fleet's ordnance depots 70 km away from Vladivostok. Consequently, 11 suffered in Tayozhka settlement, about ten cottages of Vladivostok residents were burnt down. 830 were evacuated from the settlement and 1,000-1,200 from horticultural cooperatives located around. The cause was fireworks arranged by cottagers to the Fishermen Day.

In August 2003 ammunition depots exploded at Yevreysky Autonomous Region.

On May 17, 2005 the gunpowder-engine of disarmed RGB-6 depth bomb actuated at Navy Arsenal 18 in Kronshtadt. 6 suffered 4 men and 2 women, one of them got burnt on 40%.

In the evening of June 16, 2005 a fire happened at military armory at Taltsy Station near Ulan-Ude. During thunderstorm one lightning struck a shell box. About hundred of servicemen participated in the fire extinguishing; then EMERCOM fire trucks arrived. (Note: explosion at Gusinoye Ozero Station also occurred during thunderstorm, but the warehouses detonated by fireball).

On October 1, 2005 about 04.00 am local time a fire happened at Kamchatka caused subsequent blowups of Pacific Fleet's ordnance depots located nearby Yuzhnye Koriaki settlement. Shell fragments scattered at the distance up to 6 km.

In May 2008 a fire occurred at missile armament warehouse of an air base at Leningrad Military Command.

In September 2008 Pacific Fleet's ammunition depots were on fire again.

Late January 2008 a blowup occurred while pre-disposal activities of old munitions at the range of FSUE Navy Arsenal 10 (Kansk). Several people suffered. Two got blinded.

In September 2009 blasts thundered at Karabash Arsenal in Chita region.

And finally, recent fire at Ulyanovsk's arsenal occurred in November 2009. In consequence of numerous explosions booming there many days, 211 houses were partially damaged at districts of Ulyanovsk; roofs of 26 residence buildings in the garrison partially destroyed. On November 23 at 02.30 pm a shell detonated again while loading remained munitions on the truck at Arsenal 31 in Ulyanovsk. People died. Explosions and fire cost Ministry of Defense 60 mln rub (about $2 mln).

There is array of reasons for such emergencies and each may cause technological disaster. They are violation of loading and unloading rules, negligence, disorderliness, inadvertence, acts of nature. Incendiary crimes are not excluded, including those to cover-up stealing.

According to some information, 57,710 firearms were stolen or lost in Russia only in 2002 (Compare: only 951 firearms were sought through all Soviet epoch till 1991).

Accidents at storehouses and arsenals continue to take lives, cause direct and consequential material damage. According to Main Military Procuracy, since 1992 till 2003 explosions and fire at various ammo depots and arsenals inflicted 11 bln rub damage.

The highest officials decided to take total inventory of depots and arsenals. A number of military top-ranking officers were fired. The Procuracy conducts an investigation which will certainly reveal accident causes and name persons in charge.

Indeed, that has become a tradition, even a sort of routine. We've acclimatized ourselves to that.

But just till the next explosion.