A Danish-led task force is being readied in Cyprus to remove the first part of Syria’s deadly chemical stockpile.
Syria will relinquish control of deadly toxins which can be used to make sarin, VX gas and other lethal agents under a deal worked out between the US and Russia by the end of the year, but the ongoing conflict is complicating efforts to meet that deadline.
Denmark and Norway plan to use two cargo vessels to transport up to 500 tons of Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons out of the Syrian port city of Latakia, escorted by two frigates of their respective navies, and deliver it to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for destruction.
If there's no country willing to take the cargo or willing to participate with the transload, we're not going to take the stuff aboard.
Commodore Torben Mikkelsen of Denmark, commander of the combined task force, said the timing was related to a lot of other uncertainties, but his team was preparing to be ready as fast as possible.
“My job right now is to prepare this task group, capable of transporting chemical agents out of the port of Latakia in Syria, to a so-far not identified destination for ongoing further destruction of these chemical agents,” Mikkelsen said in the Cypriot port of Limassol.
Commodore Henrik Holck Rasmussen, of Danish frigate HDMS Esbern Snare, said the two cargo ships would go to Syria as many times as needed to pick up all chemical weapons.
Danish chemical weapons expert Bjoern Schmidt said an OPCW plan showed the cargo ships would take the chemicals to the harbour of an as yet unidentified country where the most dangerous chemicals would be transferred on to American ship MV Cape Ray.
The ship is equipped with technology that can largely neutralise the chemicals. The process will take place at sea and the mostly inert chemicals would receive additional treatment at another facility.
Mikkelsen said it was unlikely the cargo ships would take any chemical weapons aboard until a harbour was found where they could be transferred on to the American ship.
“If there’s no country willing to take the cargo or willing to participate with the transload, we’re not going to take the stuff aboard,” Mikkelsen said.
“We need to know the transload or the disembarkation harbour. Then we’re ready to go.”
Croatia has said it would consider providing one of its ports for the transfer of the chemicals as long as there was no public opposition.
The containers will be inspected and sealed by OPCW officials and Syrian authorities at Latakia port.