Landmark Mission: Regime’s most lethal warfare agents are neutralized at sea
In an unprecedented seaborne operation, U.S. military and civilian engineers successfully neutralized the deadliest components of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile this summer aboard a government cargo ship.
While sailing in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, the crew eliminated 581.5 metric tons of methylphosphonyl difluoride, a chemical used to make the nerve agent sarin, and 19.8 tons of liquid sulfur mustard, a blistering agent.
The mission began after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed in September 2013 to a United Nations-led disarmament plan. The U.S. had threatened air strikes after Western leaders blamed the Assad regime for a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb the previous month.
The plan for destruction at sea was hatched after experts concluded that neutralizing the agents in a country engulfed in civil war was impractical. When several European nations refused to accept the chemicals for destruction, the U.S. offered a specially retrofitted ship for the job.
The portable system installed on the MV Cape Ray, a vessel from the U.S. Maritime Administration’s reserve fleet, evolved from a hydrolysis process used a decade ago by the U.S. military to dispose of its own chemical weapons on land.
The technology neutralizes warfare agents and their precursors by heating and mixing them with hot water and reagents such as sodium hydroxide. The resulting effluent can then be disposed of at commercial waste treatment facilities.