A specially equipped U.S. vessel embarked on Monday for a mission to neutralize Syria's deadliest warfare chemicals, the Associated Press reports.
The MV Cape Ray would need about two weeks to reach the Italian seaport of Gioia Tauro, where it is expected to pick up hundreds of tons of chemical-warfare stocks removed from Syria by Danish and Norwegian transport ships. The U.S. vessel would carry the weapon agents and arms ingredients out to sea, where they would be combined with hot water and other materials in machinery designed to generate a relatively harmless waste.
The Defense Department on Monday stated that end materials "will be safely and properly disposed of at commercial facilities," and stressed that none would be "released into the sea or air."
Approximately 35 nonmilitary crew members and a number of operations experts were on the vessel, AP quoted Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren as saying on Monday. The Navy's Military Sealift Command assumed oversight of the ship this week from the Transportation Department's Ready Reserve Force.
The Cape Ray is slated to ultimately take on more than five dozen people trained to run its chemical-destruction technology, as well as protection personnel and other crew.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that ship personnel are "about to accomplish something no one has tried."
As they prepared to set sail, Hagel told the workers, "You will be destroying, at sea, one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical weapons and helping make a safer world."
Prior to destruction, though, the chemicals must be transported through Syria by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad. Disarmament officials have placed high importance on protecting the stocks during shipment through the war-ravaged Middle Eastern nation.
Assad's regime on Monday placed its second load of the dangerous substances on foreign ships. Envoys and nonproliferation sources pegged the size of that cache at 15 to 20 tons, which means that about one-twentieth of Assad's most dangerous chemical stocks are now in international custody, the New York Times reported.
Yet, Assad's government "should be way down the road by now" in turning over the materials, said Christian Chartier, a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. International authorities are under a self-imposed deadline to destroy Syria's entire chemical arsenal by the middle of 2014.
The Syrian regime admitted possessing a chemical arsenal and agreed to its destruction last year, after a nerve-gas strike allegedly killed more than 1,400 people in a rebel-held Damascus neighborhood.