Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 12

After Israeli sources alleged that there had been at least three chemical attacks on Syrian rebels since January, the OPCW has announced it will not be investigating these most recent claims.  A senior Israeli defense official claims that government troops used industrial chemicals, such as a pesticide, in attacks against rebel forces in the Damascus countryside.  Both Israel and Britain are investigating these claims.

The OPCW held an informational meeting for press, governmental and non-governmental officials aboard the MV Cape Ray in Rota, Spain on Thursday, 10 April. Though still not fully transparent, there are now more details regarding the destruction process that will occur aboard the ship.

Currently, about 55% of the Syrian chemicals have been transported from the country.  While shipments have been delayed, officials still believe Syria will be able to meet the 27 April deadline.  The Norwegian Taiko will transport 500 tons of Priority 2 chemicals from the Syrian port of Latakia straight to Finland and Port Arthur, Texas for incineration. The Danish ship Ark will be transporting over 500 tons of Priority 1 chemicals from Latakia in Syria to the Cape Ray at the rendezvous point in the port of Gioia Tauro, Italy.  The American ship will then move into the open Mediterranean to destroy the chemicals via hydrolysis over about a 60-90-day period.  According to the OPCW’s spokesperson, Michael Luhan, “not a drop of anything is going to go into the Mediterranean.”

While hydrolysis has never been done on the water before, the Cape Ray will be outfitted with an “inclinometer” to measure the sea’s motion; if it nears 5 degrees, experts will halt their work.  The ship has additionally been equipped with emergency decontamination equipment and the process will be occurring within negatively pressurized tents, which will ensure any possible leaks, both liquid and gaseous, will be contained within them. The Priority 1 chemicals, including DF and sulphur mustard , will be mixed in 120 gallon batches with 1,600 gallons of water at 95 degrees Celsius (203 degrees Fahrenheit).  The Cape Ray will transport 150 tons of the resulting effluent of salt and thiodiglycol (used in ink) to Port Ellesmere in the UK and another 370 tons from mustard hydrolysis to Germany for incineration.

Due to increased tensions over Crimea, Russia will no longer be part of the international flotilla guarding the MV Cape Ray in the Mediterranean during the hydrolysis process; however, Russian ships are still protecting the Scandinavian ships off the coast of Syria while the world waits for Syria to complete transporting its chemicals over land to the Latakia docks.

The OPCW Executive Council met again on April 11, 2014 in The Hague to discuss progress.  The US Ambassador to the OPCW, Dr. Robert Mikulak, stated that “Syria is ignoring the Council’s call for accelerated, predictable, and systematic shipments. The only element of predictability is that shipments tend to take place around the time of Council sessions. We continue to observe that the unprecedented levels of international cooperation provided to assist Syria in meeting its obligations are being abused by the Syrian regime.  The removal operation is falling even further behind schedule because of Syria’s failure to provide the resources needed for its implementation.  Let there be no mistake about this.  The slow pace is a result of political decisions by Syrian authorities.”

Ambassador Mikulak also noted delays regarding former Syrian production facilities: “The destruction of the remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities is also well behind schedule, as a result of Syria insufficiently declaring the full extent of the facilities and proposing destruction methods with outcomes that fall short of the Convention standards, and established precedent.  Let me be clear: My delegation cannot accept lowering the Convention’s standards or allowing Syria to do less than all other States Parties.”