Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 27

As promised, by environmental activists, more active protests against the neutralization of Syrian chemical agents in the Mediterranean began this past week. On Saturday, July 19, hundreds of protesters successfully closed a road leading to Souda, a NATO naval base in Crete. The blockade was said to have lasted three days. In addition protestors have been handing out leaflets to locals in the neighboring towns. The fishermen of Chania are still planning their protest at sea. Yiannis Malandrakis, mayor of Platanias, one of the many coastal towns involved in the public demonstrations stated, “even if the hydrolysis is successful, the region is in danger of becoming the dump of the Mediterranean. The chemical weapons of the world will be brought here and the danger of an accident will be bigger.” On Friday, July 25, Greek and Italian protestors have set off in a procession of three boats, which should reach the Cape Ray by Saturday afternoon. The activists told the press they wanted to “shout their opposition to the dangerous experiment taking place at the expense of the Mediterranean Sea and the lives of the people.” US officials continue to insist that the neutralization operation, which began in early July on board the Cape Ray, will not pose a serious risk to the environment given the substantial precautions that are continuously undertaken.

On Sunday, July 20, the second shipment of Syrian chemical agents arrived in Finland for destruction. The shipment was comprised of 12 tons of hexamine and butanol. These are to be incinerated at Ekokem Oy’s waste management plant in Riihimäki. The incineration will take place in a high temperature furnace of over 1,000°C at which point the heat generated will be converted into electricity and district heat. This shipment arrived a month after the first on June 21. No reports as of yet have given details of the status of the destruction of those chemical agents.

In addition this week saw strong, positive statements by American Secretary of State John Kerry on the NBC TV news show, “Meet the Press,” and by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü at the OPCW Executive Council. Kerry stated that that “we got 100% of Syrian chemical weapons out of Syria.” This claim was checked by, who found the statement to be “mostly true.” On Thursday, July 24, Üzümcü declared “all 1,300 metric tons of chemicals removed from the Syrian Arab Republic by the international maritime operation have been delivered to destruction facilities outside the country. Destruction activities are now underway in all locations.” In addition he revealed that as of July 21, 31.8% of the total Syrian chemical arsenal had been destroyed; if one assumes 1,300 metric tons total, this percentage represents 413 tons. Üzümcü also announced at the OPCW Executive Council meeting that agreement had been reached with Syria, after seven months of negotiation, to destroy and verify 12 former chemical weapons productions facilities in Syria. This includes seven above-ground hangers, which “will be razed to the ground,” and five underground facilities, which will be permanently filled and sealed all to begin within the next 60 days. The agreement on destruction of Syrian former chemical production facilities, as required by the Chemical Weapons Convention, is an important step towards fully eliminating the Syrian chemical weapon production ability and will be inspected for up to five years by OPCW inspectors.

The US Department of Defense also announced this week that, as of July 18th, about 88 metric tons of DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride), a sarin nerve agent precursor chemical, had been neutralized on the Cape Ray ship in the Mediterranean in the first two weeks of operations. This represents about 15% of the 580 metric tons of DF on the ship. In addition, the Cape Ray has about 20 metric tons of sulphur mustard (HD) chemical agent, which will be neutralized after the DF. At the current pace of operations, some 14 weeks may be required to finish first-stage neutralization on the Cape Ray; it’s likely, however, that the current through-put rate will increase as workers continue operations.

Although the OPCW has not released specific figures yet for the destruction of Syria’s chemicals by site and chemical, the 413 metric ton total noted in the OPCW Director-General Üzümcü’s statement would indicate that about 205 metric tons have been destroyed to date in land-based facilities, likely in Finland, which received the first shipment on June 21st. An additional 120 metric tons of isopropanyl was destroyed in Syria, and the other 88 metric tons, as noted above, on the Cape Ray.