Crews in Italy began loading Syrian warfare chemicals onto a U.S. vessel equipped to neutralize the deadly substances at sea, the Associated Press reports.
The MV Cape Ray began receiving the materials shortly after the Danish vessel Ark Futura delivered them to Italy's Gioia Tauro seaport on Wednesday. Roughly one-third of the agents -- held in 78 crates -- had been moved onto the U.S. vessel by the middle of the day, according to government insiders.
The transfer was part of a chemical-disarmament operation launched in Syria last year, after sarin nerve agent killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb in August. Assad's regime denied responsibility for the incident in rebel territory, but pledged to relinquish its chemical arsenal amid threats of foreign military intervention in Syria's civil war.
"For now everything is going well. We have put in a huge amount of effort ... to manage the transfer operation smoothly," Agence France-Presse quoted Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti as saying on Wednesday.
Still, the stop in Gioia Tauro has stirred opposition from local residents.
"This is not a routine operation, it's a military operation and we are very worried," trade unionist Domenico Macri said to the news agency.
Law-enforcement officials cordoned off the port area, where workers were moving sarin-gas ingredients and mustard blister agent, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.