U.S. Ship Departs to Pick Up Syria’s Deadliest Chemical Arms

A tent onboard the U.S. ship MV Cape Ray houses equipment intended to destroy chemical-warfare materials removed from Syria. The ship departed from Spain on Wednesday to retrieve the deadliest substances relinquished by President Bashar Assad's government.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
June 25, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

A spe­cially equipped U.S. ves­sel de­par­ted from Spain on Wed­nes­day to des­troy the most dan­ger­ous war­fare chem­ic­als sur­rendered by Syr­ia’s gov­ern­ment.

End­ing a months-long stop at Spain’s Rota nav­al base, the MV Cape Ray left for the south­ern Itali­an port of Gioia Tauro to re­trieve an es­tim­ated 560 tons of mus­tard blister agent and oth­er ma­ter­i­als ex­trac­ted from Syr­ia’s war-frac­tured ter­rit­ory. The move took place two days after Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime de­livered the last of its de­clared chem­ic­al-war­fare stock­pile in­to in­ter­na­tion­al cus­tody, en­abling the com­mence­ment of a de­struc­tion op­er­a­tion slated to take place in the Medi­ter­ranean Sea.

De­fense De­part­ment spokes­man Rear Adm. John Kirby said the boat’s ini­tial trip to Italy “is ex­pec­ted to take sev­er­al days.”

Upon ar­riv­ing at Gioia Tauro, the Cape Ray would re­ceive chem­ic­als shipped from Syr­ia on­board the Dan­ish ves­sel Ark Fu­tura. The U.S. ves­sel would then em­bark for in­ter­na­tion­al wa­ters, where it would em­ploy a chem­ic­al pro­cess to render the sub­stances largely harm­less.

Earli­er this year, the ship’s cap­tain said the neut­ral­iz­a­tion pro­cess could take between 45 and 90 days, de­pend­ing on loc­al weath­er con­di­tions.

Kirby stressed on Wed­nes­day that the ef­fort would be “safe and en­vir­on­ment­ally sound.” His state­ment echoed months of Pentagon as­sur­ances is­sued as arms-con­trol ex­perts and res­id­ents of Medi­ter­ranean coun­tries aired con­cerns about the mis­sion’s safety.

Des­pite Wash­ing­ton’s stated con­fid­ence that the op­er­a­tion would pro­ceed smoothly, De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel on Monday said it would still prove “painstak­ing.”

The Cape Ray is ex­pec­ted to op­er­ate un­der the pro­tec­tion of an in­ter­na­tion­al armed es­cort, or­gan­ized as part of a mul­ti­lat­er­al dis­arm­a­ment ini­ti­at­ive launched late last year. The United States teamed with oth­er gov­ern­ments to elim­in­ate the Syr­i­an ar­sen­al fol­low­ing a sar­in nerve-agent re­lease that Wash­ing­ton be­lieves to have killed more than 1,400 people in rebel-con­trolled ter­rit­ory.

As­sad’s gov­ern­ment ac­know­ledged the stock­pile’s ex­ist­ence and agreed to its de­struc­tion after the deadly in­cid­ent promp­ted oth­er coun­tries to con­sider re­spond­ing with mil­it­ary force. However, Dam­as­cus con­tin­ues to deny re­spons­ib­il­ity for the Au­gust strike in the Ghouta sub­urb of Dam­as­cus.

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