Four Norwegian and Danish vessels, on a mission to ship hundreds of tonnes of deadly chemicals out of Syria, left Limassol port on Friday heading for international waters off the Syrian coast.
The operation missed its December 31 target date, but Norwegian military spokesman, Lars Magne Hovtun said that the ships are now on their way to collect their chemical cargo.
“The four ships have set a course toward a holding area in international waters outside Syria, so we are most ready to enter the port of Latakia when the order arrives,” he said.
Bad weather, coordination problems and shifting battle lines held up the mission which then missed its 31st December target. Meanwhile. Meanwhile, Syrian President Assad’s troops have battled to clear the roads of rebel forces which are hindering the transportation of the chemicals to Port Latakia.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the removal of the chemicals along with Syrian authorities and the United Nations, have not made it clear when the chemicals will be ready to ship from Latakia.
“In any operation of this kind one does not state the day of execution but we are comfortable in the knowledge that all the work is about to be completed,” the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, Sigrid Kaag, told Reuters this week.
“This is a very complex management exercise – over and above the fact that it is a chemical weapons programme that has to be destroyed at a time that a country is at war,” he said.
Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons under a deal proposed by Russia and brokered between Russia, Syria and the United States, after a sarin gas attack on 21st August, 2013, which the West blamed on Assad’s government. Syrian authorities deny they used chemical weapons, blaming rebels for that and other attacks.
Once the chemicals are loaded on board at Latakia, the ships will be escorted by Russian and Chinese vessels to an Italian port where the cargo will be loaded onto a US-owned ship adapted to destroy the chemicals.
The US Navy vessel ‘Cape Ray’, holding equipment which can neutralise Syria’s chemical weapons, is being prepared for its mission in Portsmouth, Virginia. On board is a mobile Hydrolysis system designed to remove and destroy chemical warfare agents in bulk. The weapons will be loaded onto the ‘Cape Ray’, which will then destroy them at sea.
‘Cape Ray’, is due to leave the United States for the Mediterranean in about 10 days’ time.