2 July 2014
Last updated at 11:33
Italian coast guard ships accompany the Danish vessel in Gioia Tauro
A ship carrying deadly material from Syria’s chemical weapons programme has docked in Italy, in the final phases in the destruction of the arsenal.
Danish vessel Ark Futura arrived at the port of Gioia Tauro with a cargo that includes mustard gas and components of the nerve agents, VX and sarin.
The material is being transferred to a US naval vessel for eventual neutralisation at sea.
Syria agreed to the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile last year.
The deal – backed by the UN and brokered by the US and Russia – was struck amid the threat of US air strikes, triggered by a sarin gas attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
The latest shipment marks the closing phases in the operation to destroy Syria’s toxic arsenal.
The Danish vessel docked on Wednesday morning, accompanied by Italian coast guard ships and a military helicopter.
Its cargo is being transferred amid tight security, with access roads to the port sealed off.
The Ark Futura docked next to the US vessel MV Cape Ray
The two ships were connected by a ramp as cranes began lifting containers from one to the other
Italian authorities have been keen to dispel concerns over the safety of the operation
Cranes have been seen lifting large containers on to the US navy ship, MV Cape Ray, in an operation that is expected to last 20 hours.
The US vessel is equipped with a plant where the bulk of the chemicals can be neutralised by the process of hydrolysis.
During hydrolysis, the chemical agents are broken down with hot water and then further neutralised with sodium hydroxide – also known as caustic soda or lye.
The BBC’s Rome correspondent, Alan Johnston, says this process will only begin after the American ship has steamed far out to the sea – because of its hazardous cargo.
Any remaining waste is expected to be buried on land, in purpose-built facilities.
Italy’s Environment Minister, Gian Luca Galletti, said on Twitter that he was proud of his country’s “contribution to international security”, adding that the operation at Gioia Tauro was transparent and environmentally safe.
However, a trade unionist at the port told AFP he was concerned about the transfer. “This is not a routine operation, it’s a military operation and we are very worried,” Domenico Macri said.
“If there’s an accident, a container breaks or falls, the substances which would come out could do serious damage,” he said.
Removing Syria’s chemical weapons: How the plan is unfolding
- 1. The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from 12 sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
- 2. Russia is providing security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment. China has sent 10 ambulances and surveillance cameras, and Finland an emergency response team in case of accidents.
- 3. Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take the chemicals to the container port of Gioia Tauro in Italy. Russia and China are also providing naval escorts and the first consignment of 16 tonnes left Latakia on 7 January.
- 4. In Italy, the “most critical” chemical agents are being loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Less-toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.