Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 31

This past week saw the Cape Ray officially complete the neutralization of all the chemical agents on board. Her consignment included 581 MT of DF, a precursor for sarin gas, and 19.8 MT of sulphur mustard (HD). Both of these agents were neutralized using two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems (FDHSs) aboard the ship. This process reduced the toxicity of these agents by 99.9%. Neutralization of such dangerous agents at sea has never been done before, thus this is an extremely commendable feat that may change the future of international efforts for chemical weapons disarmament. Now the toxic effluent resulting from the process, about ten times the original volume of 600 MTs, is being delivered by the Cape Ray to Findland (DF effluent) and Germany (HD effluent) final, second-stage disposal in land-based incinerator facilities.

Another 600 MTs had earlier been delivered by the Danish and Norwegian ships to the UK, Finland, and the US for incineration. As of August 14, the OPCW stated that 84.3% of all Syria’s chemicals had been destroyed; this amounts to almost 1,100 MTs out of 1,301.3 MTs declared by Syria.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel congratulated the Cape Ray’s efforts on Monday, August 18, on completing its neutralization of Syrian chemical agents. Hagel himself telephoned Navy Captain Rich Dromerhauser aboard the Cape Ray to “congratulate the crew on finishing their unprecedented work of neutralizing, at sea, the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s declared stockpile.” He said, “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.”

Hagel also made sure to commend their success on conducting the operation without inflicting any impact on the local environment—an important note given the amount of local protest surrounding potential environmental accidents they feared that could have been caused by the chemical agent neutralization process out at sea. The press statement was concluded with a signal to continued American commitment to “deter future use of chemicals as weapons, and in ensuring that all questions about the extent of Assad’s chemical weapons program are answered in full.”

Ahmet Üzümcü, OPCW Director-General, also applauded the successful completion of the Cape Ray’s neutralization of Syria’s most dangerous chemical agents in an OPCW press release. He stated that the Cape Ray’s completed neutralization of 600 MT of Category 1 chemical agents “ends a crucial stage in the complex international maritime operation to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. [He also] wish[ed] to congratulate and thank the United States, the crew aboard the Cape Ray, and our OPCW inspectors and demilitarization experts for this remarkable achievement.”

US American Secretary of State John Kerry also congratulated the “milestone” in a press release. Unlike the other statements he also stated that “(n)o one can or ever will wipe away that memory” of the August 21, 2013, attack that U.S. officials say killed 1,426 people, including hundreds of children. “The images of children suffering at the hands of a monster’s illicit arsenal reminded all the world why these weapons have long been shunned by the civilized world and revealed for any who still doubted the true face of Assad.”

Finally, US President Obama joined in the commendations and included that vigilance is still required by the international community in order to ensure Damascus destroys its chemical production facilities. He also stated the Cape Ray’s successful neutralization “further advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad 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.”

Green Cross International also last week issued two statements on the first anniversary of the August 21st chemical weapons attack last year, calling for additional support for the thousands of victims and for the remaining six non-member countries to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, including both Israel and Egypt and the Middle East.