Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 26

This week saw a continuation of Mediterranean dissent regarding the Cape Ray chemical neutralization operations. Thodoris Tsimpidis, director of a Greek non-profit organization concentrating on marine conservation, the Archipelagos Institute, alleged in an interview that hydrolysis, the process by which Syrian chemical agents are being neutralized on the Cape Ray, is not safe enough to be conducted aboard ships. He went on to mention that once his concerns were directed towards the process he received an invitation for a tour of the Cape Ray. However, Thodoris declined as his most important questions concerning the destruction process were simply answered with “it’s confidential.” In addition he was angered by the fact that the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs had “also not responded to our concerns. ‘Why is Greece sending a submarine to escort an operation and not its specialized maritime vessel that could monitor any sea contamination if this happened?”’ This interview displays the general sentiment in many of the countries around the Mediterranean that would be affected in the event of any marine accident, incident, or contamination.

On Thursday, July 10th, several political organizations met in Chania, Crete, in order to organize protests against the chemical weapons neutralization process near their coast.  In the near future they plan to block access to the NATO naval base in Souda, a town close to Chania, with the hope of obstructing the passage of support vessels en route to the area where the chemicals are being destroyed. In addition, local fishermen plan to protest at sea close to the American ship. They, in addition to many other international parties, would like to see these protests resulting in increased transparency from those aboard and involved in the process aboard the Cape Ray.

On Tuesday the Danish ship Ark Futura arrived at its final destination Marchwood Military Port in Hampshire, UK with approximately 200 metric tons of Syrian chemicals that were intended for, but had not yet been, transformed into chemical weapons.  A Ministry of Defense spokesman said these “Priority 2” chemicals would be offloaded and taken away by contractors. A convoy of approximately 15 trucks will make a trip to Ellesmere Port. Local police have been notified of the route and its timing. This overland transportation will bring them to the site of destruction Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, in a specialized incineration plant also owned by Veolia. This is the same company that is destroying similar chemicals in Port Arthur, Texas.  The spokesperson went on to reassure the local British populations that the chemicals “will have been diluted to such an extent that will minimize their potential and there is no risk to local populations.” There are detailed plans to liaise with local councils and the Environmental Agency and community groups. In addition, Mexichem UK Limited will be handling the extra chemical weapons, the amount of which remains unspecified, that had recently been added to the UK total. Unlike much of the local reaction both by the public and government in the Mediterranean, the Marchwood county councilor David Harrison stated: “There is a job that needs to be done and the port is very experienced and has the facilities. I believe and have faith there will be no risk to human health.”

The OPCW released an infographic on Friday, July 11, displaying the exact amounts of Syrian chemicals from each of the three categories that have been destroyed thus far. The terminology has changed from “priority” chemicals now to “categories”. Priority 1 is now Category 1 and Priority 2 is now Category 2. Of the Category 1 chemicals, 257.4 metric tons, 24.8%, have been destroyed as of July 11. No Category two chemicals have been destroyed. Thus the grand total of destroyed Syrian chemicals is 19.9%. Seeing as this data is now a week old, chemicals destroyed in Finland have not yet been added, and the Cape Ray has been neutralizing weapons on a 24/7 basis every day since, it is likely the number is now marginally higher.  We expect weekly updates now from the OPCW, based on ongoing destruction on the Cape Ray and at the land-based sites.

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