The Pentagon is outfitting a Navy auxiliary ship with mobile units capable of neutralizing Syria’s poison gas and chemicals used to make nerve gas 45 to 90 days after receiving them, two U.S. defense officials said.
The equipment is being installed on the MV Cape Ray, a cargo ship operated by the U.S. Maritime Administration, and will be ready to sail by early January to a port yet to be chosen, the officials told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon, asking not to be identified discussing operational matters.
The U.S. offered the ship to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons after Albania and other nations declined entreaties to do the work on their territory. The agreement for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to turn over chemical weapons calls for them to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31.
Officials from the international organization have visited the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to examine the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, which can dilute Syria’s stock of poison gas and precursor chemicals with water and bleach to neutralize them, the officials said.
The low-level effluent that results won’t be dumped into the ocean, the officials said. It will be disposed of at a yet to be determined industrial waste-treatment facility.
Under the deal the U.S. and Russia brokered with Assad, international inspectors are taking inventory of Assad’s mustard gas and chemicals used to make nerve agents, including VX and sarin. The U.S. and other nations say Assad’s forces have used such chemicals to kill thousands of Syrian citizens.
The U.S. has provided about 2,000 containers to the United Nations and the OPCW to pack Syria’s stockpile of chemicals, which then will be sent by road to Syria’s Mediterranean port of Latakia, the officials said.
Syria’s stock of Priority 1 chemicals, which include mustard gas as well as isopropyl alcohol and methylphosphonyl difluoride, which are mixed to make sarin, is estimated at several hundred tons, and probably will require 100 to 150 standard shipping containers, the U.S. officials said.
The officials said details about what country’s ship will load the containers of chemicals in Latakia and where they’ll be shipped are still being worked out through diplomatic negotiations.
After a ship delivers the chemicals from Latakia to a port, the officials said, the stockpile will be transferred to the Cape Ray. Once the chemicals are on the U.S. ship, the neutralization process will occur at sea and may take 45 to 90 days, they said.
The Cape Ray will have about 100 U.S. personnel, with about 60 Pentagon civilian employees and the remainder being contract workers, the officials said. They declined to discuss security measures for the ship.