Chinese Warship to Escort Transfer of Syrian Chemical Weapons

chemical weaponsA Chinese missile frigate was on standby in Cyprus Sunday to serve as an escort in the complex and risky operation involved in delivering Syria’s chemical weapons to the specially-outfitted U.S. ship Cape Ray for destruction.

Over the weekend, Cypriot Defense Minister Photis Photiou, accompanied by Chinese Ambassador Liu Xinsheng, inspected the 440-foot frigate Yan Cheng at dockside in the port of Limassol. It was the first time a Chinese warship had come to the eastern Mediterranean island.

Ambassador Liu said that “China supports the efforts of international community for the Syrian chemical weapons and we come to Cyprus to participate in this international operation,” the Famagusta (Cyprus) Gazette reported.

“We wish this operation success,” Liu said, but he gave no estimate for when the Yan Cheng would begin its escort duty.

Last week, the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad missed the Dec. 31 deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations for moving hundreds of tons of toxic agents – mostly precursors for mustard gas but also elements of the nerve agent Sarin – to the northern Syrian port of Latakia on Russian trucks.

The Syrian regime cited bad weather and the ongoing civil war for the delay. OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said a number of factors made it necessary to extend the deadline, “not the least the continuing volatility in overall security conditions.”

Last Friday, a convoy consisting of a Norwegian navy ship and merchant ship, and a Danish navy ship and merchant ship, weighed anchor from Cyprus and began proceeding to Latakia under escort from Russian warships to be prepared to take on board the chemical weapons agents.

On Saturday, the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed that an Italian port would be made available for the transfer of the chemical weapons to the Cape Ray.

Without naming the port, the Foreign Ministry said Italy has provided a “port for the trans-shipment of Syrian chemicals” prior to their “destruction in international waters,” according to Rai Italia, the Italian national broadcasting company.

The chemicals will be brought over “in sealed containers, following strict technical and environmental standards” and will be destroyed through hydrolysis aboard the Cape Ray, the Foreign Ministry said.

The 648-foot MV Cape Ray was still dockside at General Dynamics Corp.’s NASSCO-Earl shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., awaiting orders to begin the mission. “Exactly where and how that process will take place hasn’t been finalized yet,” said Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

Kendall said that it would take the Cape Ray about three months to destroy the weapons, once the process has begun.

The Cape Ray has been fitted with three field deployable hydrolysis systems, each costing about $5 million, designed to destroy the chemical agents in a process involving water and bleach.

Where the Cape Ray will anchor to carry out the process has yet to be determined. The OPCW also has yet to reach agreement with a nation willing take the hazardous waste that will be produced by the process.

The confirmed use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta last Aug. 21, which the U.S. charged had killed 1,400 people, led to a U.S.-Russian agreement sanctioned by the UN to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • Tad

    I think it’s very impressive that thousands of tons of weaponized CWA’s can be destroyed on a ship. That’s a pretty big engineering accomplishment, IMO. (And yeah, I know there will be comments about the-solution-to-pollution-is-dilution and the chem agents will end up in the ocean, but that is just not true.)

  • hibeam

    Maybe we could float Obama out there in a rubber raft to smile and wave and look relevant?

    • Only if he can borrow W’s ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ banner.

      • Jeff

        Burn!

    • Greg

      Again you are trolling. Do you realize you are a troll? Always commenting off coment on some political agenda that has nothing to do with the topic. Just like your brilliant affirmative action comment.

      If you don’t have anything intelligent to say, then don’t say it at all.

  • Musson

    Here is a suggestion for the escort ship: Sail Up Wind of your charge.

  • BlackOwl18E

    I think it’s great that China is taking a role in policing the world for its own interests. It takes some of the burden off us and makes them more responsible for themselves (something a good portion of Europe has yet to learn). For all their faults, I can see a somewhat peaceful coexistence with a rising China so long as our leaders respect each other and are willing to negotiate to an understanding on every issue that faces us.

    What I don’t like is how weak Obama was during the whole Syria Crisis. He made us look like fools. Putin was playing chess while Obama was playing checkers. It was embarrassing. Russia won a lot of clout and geopolitical ground and definitely walked away the winner in that little skirmish. We’ll have to do better next time.

    • blight_

      Obama didn’t have a unified Congress at his back. Many are still convinced that Arabs should police themselves. Some think it is our job to be world police, and others think it’s our job to go kill tinpot dictators for minimal long term impact.

      We got burned once…we were told it would be easy in 2003. We’ll be more wary of putting our hand in that mousetrap again; but it’s too bad the next time around it’ll be wariness for something like Iran annexing Iraq, or Turkey walking into Kurdistan: something bigger than the petty use of heinous weapons.

    • Praetorian
      • Given the choice, would you prefer a ‘dictator light’ running the country, over a former community organizer?

        • Nadnerbus

          I suspect most people would prefer neither, but rather a third option of someone with some knowledge and experience in statecraft that would have avoided the whole debacle.

          • Like lieing the US into a war in Iraq by choice that got hundred thousand service men and women maimed and traumatised and 6000 dead!!!!

          • Nadnerbus

            You’re right, Bush screwed up. So that means Obama can’t?

          • Greg

            Great point

    • Nadnerbus

      I’ll second the China sentiment. They might have ulterior motives for this move, but on the surface it is good to see. We watch them throw their weight around in the South China Sea, and see their pitiful response to the disaster in the Philippines, and and many of us have criticized them for being a bully and not a leader with their new found power. So a move like this looks, at least on the surface, as a step in the right direction to be more of a member of the world community, such as it is.

    • Argospete

      I totally agree. And in the spirit of cooperation, I volunteer to inspect all the Female Miltia recently on Military Parade. (No Charge)

  • retired462

    Good job for “LCS-1”

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