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Destroying Syrian chemical arms at sea ‘threatens environment’

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-28

The destruction of part of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal aboard a US ship carries “multiple risks” as such a procedure has never been tested at sea, a French environment watchdog has warned.

International experts gathered in Russia on Friday approved a plan to ship Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons to Italy for their eventual destruction aboard the specially-equipped US vessel Cape Ray.

The unprecedented plan, part of a US-Russian deal for Syria to surrender its stash of more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, will see Danish and Norwegian frigates escort cargo ships loaded with the deadly agents from the Syrian port of Latakia to international waters off the coast of Italy.

But according to French NGO Robin des Bois, the plan to dispose of the chemical weapons at sea is “adventurous” and poses a serious threat to the crew and the environment.

In a report published on Thursday, Robin des Bois pointed to Cape Ray’s single hull and the absence of transverse partitions as indicators that the ship was not suited to perform such a critical task.

“Adjustments being made to the Cape Ray cannot guarantee that the ship will remain afloat should it incur severe damage,” such as a water leak or a fire, said the NGO, which is specialised in monitoring vessels and the impact of the ship-breaking process on the environment. 

'Pilot system designed for ground use'

The 200 metre-long Cape Ray is equipped with the newly developed Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS), which was designed by the Pentagon to neutralise components used in chemical weapons.

According to Robin des Bois, the FDHS is a “pilot system (…) designed for ground use”, which has never been tested before in such a vast operation.

“To attempt a first use on such a scale aboard a ship is an adventurous operation that carries multiple risks for the crew, the technicians, and the environment,” the NGO added.

The UN has set a target date of June 30, 2014, to destroy Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s entire chemical weapons arsenal.

The most hazardous materials, many of which are still scattered across several sites in the war-torn country, are to leave Syrian territory by the end of 2013.

Sources close to the operation say neither date is likely to be kept.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

Date created : 2013-12-27

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