THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, August 18, 2014 (ENS) – All 581 metric tonnes of a precursor chemical for sarin gas that were removed from the Syrian Arab Republic and loaded onto the U.S. Maritime Vessel Cape Ray in early July, have been destroyed with neutralization technology aboard the ship while sailing in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The destruction operations were continuously monitored and verified on the M/V Cape Ray by a team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Cape Ray

Crews aboard the U.S. ship Cape Ray neutralized the Syrian chemical weapons (Photo courtesy U.S. Dept. of Transportation)

The OPCW is the implementing body of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty with 190 Member States, who are working together to achieve a world free of chemical weapons.

President Barack Obama called the destruction “an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction by eliminating Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile.”

“The most lethal declared chemical weapons possessed by the Syrian regime were destroyed by dedicated U.S. civilian and military professionals using a unique American capability aboard the M/V Cape Ray, and they did so aboard that U.S. vessel several weeks ahead of schedule,” said the President..

The destruction advances the world’s collective goal “to ensure that the Asad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community,” said Obama.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel congratulated the crew of the MV Cape Ray for completing the work of neutralizing Syrian chemical weapons components.

Hagel called Navy Captain Rich Dromerhauser aboard the ship to congratulate the crew on finishing their unprecedented work of neutralizing, at sea, the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s declared stockpile. Hagel said that “by ridding the world of these materials, they – as part of an ongoing international effort to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal – have helped make an important and enduring contribution to global security.”

OPCW Director-General Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü of Turkey thanked the United States for completing the destruction of the precursor chemicals in a safe and environmentally sound manner, and for its overall contribution to the international efforts to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The precursor chemicals – methylphosphonyl difluoride, or DF – were neutralized with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems, FDHS, that were installed on the Cape Ray to destroy the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s stockpile.

The FDHS units mixed the chemicals with fresh water and reagents and then heated the mixture, which reduces the toxicity of the chemicals by at least 99.9 percent. All of the resulting effluents, or reaction mass, from hydrolysis of the DF are stored aboard the ship.

The Cape Ray has now begun to neutralize 19.8 metric tonnes of sulfur mustard, a blistering agent, which are all the Syrian chemicals that remain on the ship.

When that has been completed, the Cape Ray will transport the effluents from the DF and sulfur mustard for disposal at land-based facilities in Finland and Germany.

Obama thanked the United Nations-OPCW Joint Mission and the entire international coalition. “We also thank our close allies and partners – Denmark, Norway, Italy, Finland, Germany, and the United Kingdom  for their key contributions to this mission, and we appreciate the assistance of Russia and China,” he said.

On July 24, Director-General Üzümcü announced that all 1,300 metric tonnes of chemicals removed from Syria by the international maritime operation had been delivered to destruction facilities outside the country and that destruction was underway.

On August 7, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced that 190 metric tonnes of precursor chemicals for making nerve agent from Syria were destroyed at a commercial facility in Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, England. The OPCW then confirmed that over 74 percent of Syria’s stockpile of chemicals had been destroyed.

Obama said the international community will be watching closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities.

He said “serious questions” remain about “omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration to the OPCW and about continued allegations of use.”

“These concerns must be addressed, and we will work closely with the OPCW and the international community to seek resolution of these open issues,” said Obama, “even as we broadly press the Asad regime to end the horrific atrocities it continues to commit against its people.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern about “reports of systematic use of chlorine gas in opposition areas, as described by the fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

“Lastly, but most importantly,” said Kerry, “the Assad regime’s brutality must come to an end. Assad lost any legitimacy to lead Syria long before he gassed his own people to death.”

Kerry said the United States will continue to provide political, financial, and other support to the moderate opposition “because we are committed to help those who seek the right of all Syrians to choose a future of peace and oppose the violent extremists who exploit the chaos and ruin that Assad has brought to Syria.”

“A free Syria where people can live without fear is a milestone we should all be committed to achieve together,” said Kerry.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.

 

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