U.S. Chemical-Destruction Ship Departs for Syria Mission

Global Security Newswire Staff
Jan. 28, 2014, 6:41 a.m.

A spe­cially equipped U.S. ves­sel em­barked on Monday for a mis­sion to neut­ral­ize Syr­ia’s dead­li­est war­fare chem­ic­als, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

The MV Cape Ray would need about two weeks to reach the Itali­an sea­port of Gioia Tauro, where it is ex­pec­ted to pick up hun­dreds of tons of chem­ic­al-war­fare stocks re­moved from Syr­ia by Dan­ish and Nor­we­gi­an trans­port ships. The U.S. ves­sel would carry the weapon agents and arms in­gredi­ents out to sea, where they would be com­bined with hot wa­ter and oth­er ma­ter­i­als in ma­chinery de­signed to gen­er­ate a re­l­at­ively harm­less waste.

The De­fense De­part­ment on Monday stated that end ma­ter­i­als “will be safely and prop­erly dis­posed of at com­mer­cial fa­cil­it­ies,” and stressed that none would be “re­leased in­to the sea or air.”

Ap­prox­im­ately 35 non­mil­it­ary crew mem­bers and a num­ber of op­er­a­tions ex­perts were on the ves­sel, AP quoted De­fense De­part­ment spokes­man Col. Steve War­ren as say­ing on Monday. The Navy’s Mil­it­ary Seal­ift Com­mand as­sumed over­sight of the ship this week from the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment’s Ready Re­serve Force.

The Cape Ray is slated to ul­ti­mately take on more than five dozen people trained to run its chem­ic­al-de­struc­tion tech­no­logy, as well as pro­tec­tion per­son­nel and oth­er crew.

U.S. De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel said in a state­ment that ship per­son­nel are “about to ac­com­plish something no one has tried.”

As they pre­pared to set sail, Hagel told the work­ers, “You will be des­troy­ing, at sea, one of the world’s largest stock­piles of chem­ic­al weapons and help­ing make a safer world.”

Pri­or to de­struc­tion, though, the chem­ic­als must be trans­por­ted through Syr­ia by forces loy­al to Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad. Dis­arm­a­ment of­fi­cials have placed high im­port­ance on pro­tect­ing the stocks dur­ing ship­ment through the war-rav­aged Middle East­ern na­tion.

As­sad’s re­gime on Monday placed its second load of the dan­ger­ous sub­stances on for­eign ships. En­voys and non­pro­lif­er­a­tion sources pegged the size of that cache at 15 to 20 tons, which means that about one-twen­ti­eth of As­sad’s most dan­ger­ous chem­ic­al stocks are now in in­ter­na­tion­al cus­tody, the New York Times re­por­ted.

Yet, As­sad’s gov­ern­ment “should be way down the road by now” in turn­ing over the ma­ter­i­als, said Chris­ti­an Charti­er, a spokes­man for the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons. In­ter­na­tion­al au­thor­it­ies are un­der a self-im­posed dead­line to des­troy Syr­ia’s en­tire chem­ic­al ar­sen­al by the middle of 2014.

The Syr­i­an re­gime ad­mit­ted pos­sess­ing a chem­ic­al ar­sen­al and agreed to its de­struc­tion last year, after a nerve-gas strike al­legedly killed more than 1,400 people in a rebel-held Dam­as­cus neigh­bor­hood.

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