Ships set off to transport Syrian chemicals

International vessels sail for Latakia – but consignments of chemicals have yet to make it to the Syrian port.

Syrian chemical weapons were first scheduled to be removed for destruction by December 31 [AFP]

Danish and Norwegian vessels have taken off towards Syria as planned to escort a shipment of chemical weapons for destruction, despite a missed deadline and delays in the international effort to rid the country of its arsenal.

The ships left the Cypriot port of Limassol on Friday, but the weapons’ arrival to the Syrian port of Latakia for transport remains delayed by logistical problems, bad weather, and Syria’s ongoing war, according to the joint United Nations-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission overseeing the operation.

The stockpiles of chemicals, including precursors for sarin gas, remain in their original locations despite a December 31 deadline to have them ready for transport and destruction.

On Tuesday, Wael Nader Al Halqi, Syria’s prime minister, said security concerns and bureaucracy had caused delays in transporting the weapons to the Syrian port of Latakia.

The Danish task group commander, Commodore Torben Mikkelsen, said no new date has been set for the shipment to arrive to Latakia, but that the Danish and Norwegian vessels would hold station outside Syrian territorial waters and wait for new orders.

“We don’t know but what we know is that we are ready for the task and, if called upon, we are ready to be at short notice,” Mikkelsen said.

The year-end deadline was agreed under a deal reached by Russia and the United States, and backed by the UN Security Council, that aims to get rid of all of Syria’s chemical arms by mid-2014.

Under a plan agreed upon in Moscow on Friday, the Danish and Norwegian ships will be joined by Chinese and Russian vessels. The chemicals will eventually be taken to a port in Italy where they will be transferred to a US Navy vessel.

The US ship is expected to head out to an undisclosed location, possibly in the Mediterranean, to begin the task of neutralising them, AFP news agency said.

Source: AFP