Analysts: Neutralising Syrian chemical weapons at sea would be 'safe and secure'

06/12/2013

Syria's chemical weapons have been a threat to both Syrians and to Turkey.

By Alakbar Raufoglu for Southeast European Times -- 06/12/13

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Sigrid Kaag, the special co-ordinator of the joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, said the most dangerous weapons will be neutralised on a US ship. [AFP]

As international allies prepare to dispose of Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons, which must be removed from the country by the end of December, officials and analysts in neighbouring Turkey agree that operating the disposal machines at sea should be safe to the environment, analysts told SETimes.

"The destruction [of Syria's chemical weapons] process is organised by the joint efforts of the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW], meaning it has international legitimacy," Bezen Coskun, international security analyst from the Gaziantep-based Zirve University, said.

The OPCW's plan calls for the most dangerous weapons to be broken down on a US ship in the Mediterranean Sea. While at least 35 companies have expressed interest in bidding on contracts to dispose about 800 tonnes of the weapons, about 500 tonnes are too dangerous to transport to another country and would be disposed of on the US ship. The operation would involve neutralising the poison gas arsenal, collecting several hundred tonnes of the resulting hazardous waste and disposing it safely.

The threat of chemical weapons has loomed over both Syria and Turkey as the two-year civil war in Syria continues. Turkey's military is closely monitoring the border to protect its citizens from the fighting, and more than 600,000 Syrians have fled into Turkey since the fighting began.

Syrians have already begun destroying their chemical weapons arsenal, which included missile warheads, aerial bombs as well as mixing and filling equipment, according to an international team tasked with overseeing the effort.

The UN official in charge of co-ordinating the process provided new details about the plan on Wednesday (December 4th), saying that once started, the process of neutralising 500 tonnes of the chemical components used to make mustard gas and sarin gas could be completed within 45 to 90 days, while an additional 800 metric tonnes of less dangerous chemical precursors will be destroyed by one of 35 companies that have bid for the contract.

If all goes according to plan, the most dangerous materials will be sent overland to the country’s biggest Mediterranean port of Latakia, about 225 kilometres north of Damascus, where ships would take them to a foreign port and transfer to a specially equipped naval vessel offered by the US.

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OPCW inspectors examine Syria's chemical weapons arsenal in an undisclosed location in Damascus. [AFP]

Though this process has never been carried out at sea, Coskun said the process should be a "very low-risk operation," to the environment, and that hydrolysis is a proven technology.

"As the chemical agents are planned to be destroyed by using hydrolysis, which is a chemical process in which a certain molecule is split into two parts by the addition of a molecule of water, the process will do no harm environmentally," she told SETimes.

US officials on Thursday said that, "absolutely nothing will be dumped at sea," calling the process "a relatively low-risk operation."

Serdar Erdurmaz, a retired Turkish Army colonel currently with the Ankara-based Turkish Centre for Strategic Analysis, said it is also important to know the location of the designated ships.

"It is wise to contemplate that all ships must be located to the nearest point to all chemical arsenal in Syria," he told SETimes.

The plan could restore momentum to the international effort to rid Syria of all its chemical weapons, as many countries have been reluctant to volunteer to dispose of the chemicals, with a fair of being used in attacks inside the country or as terrorist weapons outside the country.

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Coskun said the removal of chemical agents from Syria "is a relief for Turkey."

The open border policy and the open hostility between Ankara and the regime of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad had raised Ankara's concerns over the possibility of chemical attack.

"As Ankara had concerns about the chemical attacks from Syria, during the last couple of months Ankara sent letters explaining the ways to protect from the harms of a chemical attack to public offices and schools in Southeastern Anatolia," Coskun said.

What is your opinion about the plan to neutralise the most dangerous weapons at sea? Add your comments in the space below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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A US ship and crew is making final preparations to neutralise the most dangerous part of Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal. How important do you believe the operation is in protecting civilian populations from chemical weapons?

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