WASHINGTON – The MV Cape Ray left Portsmouth, Va., on Monday on a mission to neutralize Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and their precursor materials at sea, the Pentagon said.
The Cape Ray houses the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, which was developed by the U.S. military as the crisis in Syria escalated. The engineers who built the FDHS took existing chemical weapons neutralization technology and made it mobile.
This mission is the first of its kind. The U.S. and other countries have years of experience destroying chemical weapons on land, but this will mark the first time anyone has attempted to perform the task on a seagoing vessel. The ability to neutralize the dangerous materials in international waters made the disarmament effort led by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations politically possible because none of the countries involved wanted the chemicals on their soil.
Norwegian and Danish ships are in the process of transporting the chemicals from the Syrian port of Latakia to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, where they will be transferred to the Cape Ray. After the stockpile is onloaded, the Cape Ray will sail into international waters and begin neutralizing it.
It will take the Cape Ray two to three weeks to reach Gioia Tauro, depending on weather and sea conditions during the journey, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said.
There will be 135 U.S. personnel involved in the operation onboard the Cape Ray once the neutralization effort is underway, including commercial mariners manning the ship, chemical engineers operating the FDHS, a Navy security team, and other support personnel. In addition, about a dozen U.S. Navy ships will provide security for the Cape Ray to ward off any potential seaborne attacks, Warren said.
On Sunday, Rick Jordan, the captain of the Cape Ray, read a letter to his crew from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel prior to their deployment.
“You are about to accomplish something no one has tried,” Hagel said. “Your task will not be easy. Your days will be long and rigorous. But your hard work, preparation and dedication will make the difference.”
After the chemicals are rendered inert, the resulting effluent will be disposed of at a German government facility as well as commercial processing plants in other countries.