U.S. ship readies for Syria arms destruction

The operation will destroy what is known as “priority chemical weapons,” the most dangerous of Syria’s total arsenal

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The U.S. government has started equipping U.S. ship Cape Ray to enable it to destroy some of Syria’s chemical weapons at sea, if Washington is asked to assist in the effort.

The Maritime Administration vessel MV Cape Ray is being equipped with the newly developed Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, which was designed by the Defense Department to neutralize components used in chemical weapons, a defense official said on condition of anonymity to Reuters.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is monitoring the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, said last week the United States had offered to destroy some of the components on a U.S. ship and was looking for a Mediterranean port for the process.

“The United States is committed to supporting the international community’s efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in the safest, most efficient and effective means possible,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, told Reuters.

“We have offered and are currently outfitting a U.S. vessel with field deployable hydrolysis system technology to support the OPCW's efforts,” she said, adding the U.S. remained “confident that we can meet the milestones for destruction set out by the OPCW.”

The Cape Ray, a 198-meter vessel with built-in ramps to enable cargo to be efficiently rolled on and rolled off, is part of the Maritime Administration’s ready reserve force of 46 ships, Reuters reported.

The operation will destroy what is known as “priority chemical weapons,” the most dangerous of Syria’s total arsenal and ones that have to be out of the country by Dec. 31. All other declared chemical materials are to be eliminated by June 30.
Some chemical weapons are destroyed through a process called hydrolysis, in which agents, like detergents, are used to neutralize chemicals such as mustard gas and sulphur, resulting in liquid waste known as effluent.

The OPCW said on Saturday that 35 commercial companies have expressed an interest in destroying the lower priority, less dangerous weapons, according to Agence France-Presse.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed in September to give up his country’s chemicals weapons stockpile to avert a the threat of U.S. missile strikes following a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people outside the capital Damascus. The U.S. has blamed Assad for the attach, a charge he rejected.

A team of U.N.-OPCW inspectors has been on the ground since October, checking Syria’s weapons and facilities.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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