Syria’s chemical weapons to be shipped in delicate U.S.-Danish operation

The Guardian reports: A Danish cargo vessel is due to load Syria’s chemical arms stockpile and transfer it to a specially adapted US ship in a delicate and unprecedented operation early in the new year, according to the world’s chemical weapons watchdog’s current plans.

The plans being drawn up by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have not been finalised. It is not yet clear, for example, whether the transfer between the two ships of about 500 tonnes of lethal chemicals, including nerve agents, will be done on sea or when both vessels are docked.

Both options have serious challenges. A sea transfer from one ship to another with such a hazardous cargo would be fraught with danger. But so far, no Mediterranean port has agreed to host the transfer on land, say weapons experts briefed on the plan by the OPCW yesterday in The Hague.

The US ship, the Maritime Administration MV Cape Ray, is being fitted in Norfolk, Virginia, with two field deployable hydrolysis systems (FDHS) that will neutralise the chemical weapons agents with the addition of fresh water and other reagents, such as sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite. The Danish ship has so far not been identified but is believed to be a roll-on, roll-off (“ro-ro”) vessel like the Cape Ray.

The direct docking of the Cape Ray at the Syrian port of Latakia is not seen as an option given the hostile relations between Washington and Damascus.

If all goes according to plan, the chemical weapons should leave Latakia by the year’s end and the Cape Ray should be ready to sail by 4 January. It will begin processing the chemicals in international waters, but can only do so in calm seas. [Continue reading…]

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