Ship Eats Syria’s Deadly Chemicals in Weeks

Syrian chemical agents destruction

After patiently sitting in port for months, the specially outfitted U.S. container vessel MV Cape Ray only took weeks to decimate Syria’s chemical weapon precursors.

The 648-long-ship in January set sail from Portsmouth, Virginia, to the Mediterranean Sea, but was forced to spend months in Rota, Spain, waiting for Syria to turn over its stockpile of deadly chemicals.

The vessel in early July began dismantling some 600 tons of a nerve gas precursor and 20 tons of a mustard agent using a process called hydrolysis, which uses water and other reactants to neutralize and break down the chemicals. The work, which took place in international waters in the Med, wrapped up this week.


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel even called Navy Captain Rich Dromerhauser aboard the ship to congratulate the him and the crew on completing the difficult and dangerous task, which only took 41 days — much quicker than expected.

Syria, under the regime of Bashar Assad, agreed to give up the chemicals as part of an internationally brokered deal that prevented a U.S. military intervention in the country. More than 150,000 people have been killed in the three-year-old civil war, according to a human-rights group.

The conflict has helped fuel the rise of the Islamic militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, the al-Qaida inspired Islamic organization that controls parts of Syria and Iraq. The organization on Tuesday circulated video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley.

Syria blamed the delay in transferring the chemicals out of the country on the ongoing fighting within its borders.

MV Cape Ray

The Cape Ray isn’t actually part of the U.S. Navy fleet. The 36-year-old vessel is maintained by the Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration as part of the so-called Ready Reserve Force, a fleet of almost 50 commercial ships that can be activated to support defense emergencies.

After the high-profile chemical dismantling mission, the ship is headed to Finland for the less glamorous job of dropping off the waste materials, which will be disposed of commercially.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • hank

    I sure hope we sent Assad the bill but we’re not the smart.

  • rtsy

    The real question is why we don’t use this ship to destroy our own stockpiles the way we’ve been promising to do for decades.

    Also, it should be noted that only the declared Syrian stockpiles were turned over and destroyed. Assad is still using WWI style chlorine gas and could have other chemical weapons hidden in reserve.

    • LPF

      What chemical weapons is the west stockpiling???

  • Phono

    Fine this weapons are gone, but what remains is a geopolitical mess anyways. Who can be really happy with all the consequences of this solution? The syria-politic of western states is the root of evil in the 21st -century. We won the battle about this chem.-menace but in geopolitics we’re now completly lost, having to deal with IS, having to deal with assad, are indirect with russia and the iran on the syrian battlefield and lost all initiative to other players.

  • The_Dude

    Decimate means to kill one in ten. In other words, leaving 90% intact. The term came from the punishment for Roman Legions who broke ranks during battle – every 10th Soldier would be executed. The editors should know this and use a more accurate term, such as “destroy” or “eliminate”, unless what they really mean is that the ship leaves 90% of the chemical weapons intact.

    • William

      I actually didn’t know that. That’s an interesting tid-bit of history. I will argue your point though, that for the average layman like myself who didn’t know that, the colloquial meaning of decimate is synonymous with annihilate and in this sense it was used correctly.

  • guest

    Just curious as to what happened to the equipment used to manufacture this material in the first place. I wager that it is still in Syria. Another thing: Since Syria is adjacent to Iraq, what are the odds that much of this material originated in Iraq, ie, the WMD’s that could not be found. I say this bc democrats aren’t fans of the whole truth aspect in what they tell people.

  • SteveInMontana

    It is so nice to see that the U.S. finally has a ship that can do the job. When I was on Johnston Atoll in the 1970’s, the U.S. had to hire a Dutch ship, The Vulcanus, to burn up all of our Agent Orange. Then the U.S. spent hundreds of millions to get rid of all the nerve and mustard gas we had by building an incinerator plant on the island. That was in the 80’s and early 90’s. Seems toi me that if they’d built the incinerator plant in the 70’s we could have killed two birds with one stone and saved a ton of money in the process.

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