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U.S. Chemical-Destruction Ship Set to Embark on Syria Operation

Technicians on Thursday handle chemical-destruction equipment on the U.S. ship MV Cape Ray. The gear is expected to neutralize Syria's most dangerous chemical-warfare materials as part of an international disarmament mission. Technicians on Thursday handle chemical-destruction equipment on the U.S. ship MV Cape Ray. The gear is expected to neutralize Syria's most dangerous chemical-warfare materials as part of an international disarmament mission. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A specially equipped U.S. naval vessel could leave Virginia in about two weeks to eliminate warfare chemicals from violence-wracked Syria, Reuters reports.

When journalists toured the MV Cape Ray on Thursday, technicians were still welding containers and other equipment on the ship expected to neutralize the Middle Eastern nation's most hazardous chemical-weapon assets at sea using two recently designed transportable hydrolysis systems. Crews confirmed the vessel's seaworthiness in testing last week, and the chemical-elimination gear is slated to undergo on-board vetting as the ship travels to the Mediterranean Sea later this month, according to Reuters.

The chemical-arms materials still face a potentially perilous journey across Syria to the coastal city of Latakia, where they are to be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian vessels and taken to an undisclosed Italian port. From there, they are to be moved to the Cape Ray. The elaborate logistics for a remote handover were seen as necessary because of sharp animosity between Damascus and Washington.

Meantime, by late last year, no nation had volunteered to host the destruction of the chemical materials on its own soil.

"Without [the Cape Ray], this mission is not possible," said Frank Kendall, under secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

"The departure will depend upon a number of factors, but we expect within about two weeks the ship to depart," he added in remarks to reporters.

Changes to the ship for this mission include constructing accommodations for nearly three times as many personnel as the vessel typically carries, Reuters reported.

The ship is set to eliminate 700 tons of chemical-arms ingredients in a process that could take as few as 45 days, according to Rick Jordan, the ship's nonmilitary captain. He added, though, that weather conditions appear likely to stretch the effort out to around 90 days.

Chemical specialist Adam Baker said the chemical-arms destruction project would be the first to take place on the high seas, Agence France-Presse reported. Still, it would rely on thoroughly tested neutralization technology, he said.

"It is essentially the same chemical process that we've used for our chemical-weapons stockpile," said Baker, an expert with the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. "We just scaled it down into a transportable form."

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