Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: First Stage

This blog begins the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Coalition’s effort to increase information sharing on the progress of chemical weapons issues.  As the process of Syrian chemical weapons destruction moves forward, we will be issuing weekly updates on the progress of the process.  We welcome members’ comments and questions. Please direct any responses to either Charlotte Baskin-Gerwitz at [email protected] or Sabrina Maeder at [email protected]. After a delay, the first load of Syrian chemical weapons was taken from the port of Latakia by a Danish ship on January 7th, 2014, escorted by Chinese and Russian warships. A second shipment was announced on January 27th, 2014, also on board the Danish ship as well as a Norwegian freighter, escorted by Chinese, Danish, Norwegian, and Russian naval vessels. These “priority chemicals”  were meant to be sent out by December 31st, 2013 but have been delayed ostensibly due to weather and safety concerns from the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The Danish ship will transfer the Syrian precursor chemicals to the MV Cape Ray at the Italian port of Gioia Tauro. The American ship will move into international waters and neutralize them using hydrolysis. While this process is commonly used for disarmament of chemical weapons, this will be the first time it is done at sea.

There has been a growing public uproar over the location of the chemicals’ destruction.  Once it was released that the weapons would be transferred in an Italian port, the Italian public began to complain about the lack of democracy in the decision.  The mayor of Gioia Tauro, the selected Italian port on the southwest coast of Italy, said on January 16th that he was “absolutely not in favor” of use of the city’s port and complained of the undemocratic process of choosing it.  Other Mediterranean countries are worried as well about the effect of chemical weapons destruction in the ocean; both Turkey and Greece have recently lodged official complaints to the United States over this plan.

There is still the question of how the remaining Syrian chemical weapons will be destroyed. About 560 metric tons will be neutralized on board the Cape Ray.  150 tons will be transferred to the UK to be destroyed at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. And some of the toxic effluent from the MV Cape Ray will be moved to Germany for destruction, but it is unclear what will happen to the several hundred tons of chemicals remaining.  The OPCW called for proposals from private companies to destroy some of the precursor chemicals and posted its final list of 14 contenders from a range of countries earlier this month. We should know the results of this competitive process next month; however, most of the companies’ home countries have not yet officially consented to having the chemicals offloaded onto their soil.