A specially equipped U.S. ship has finished neutralizing all 600 metric tons of the most dangerous of Syria's chemical weapons components surrendered to the international community this year to avert threatened air strikes, the Pentagon said on Monday.
It said the Cape Ray, equipped with the U.S.-developed Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, neutralized 581.5 metric tons of DF, a sarin precursor chemical, and 19.8 metric tons of HD, an ingredient of sulfur mustard, while afloat in the Mediterranean.
The vessel will travel to Finland and Germany in the next two weeks to unload the resulting effluent, which will undergo treatment as industrial waste to render it safer, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
It was the first time chemical weapons components had been neutralized at sea, the Pentagon said.
A number of countries are involved in eliminating the chemical stockpiles. The United States was selected to dispose of the worst of the chemical weapons components because it had recently developed a mobile version of the hydrolysis system it uses for neutralizing chemical stockpiles.
The system uses substances and mixtures such as water, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite to neutralize bulk amounts of chemical warfare agents, according to the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
Earlier this year, the hydrolysis system was placed aboard the Cape Ray, a 648-foot (198-meter) vessel that is part of the U.S. Maritime Administration's ready reserve force of 46 ships.
The ship was held at Rota, Spain, for several months due to Syrian delays in handing over its declared stockpiles of chemical agents. The Cape Ray began neutralizing the chemicals after picking them up from Italy in late June.
On Monday morning, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called Navy Captain Rich Dromerhauser aboard the MV Cape Ray to congratulate the ship's crew on finishing their unprecedented work. The secretary said that by ridding the world of these materials, they - as part of an ongoing international effort to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal - have helped make an important and enduring contribution to global security.
Secretary Hagel expressed his gratitude for the crew's service, dedication, and expertise, noting that with the world watching, they performed flawlessly every step of the way - despite a very long deployment, and a complex operation that required careful coordination with our international partners. The secretary commended the crew for conducting every aspect of the mission in a highly professional manner, with strict adherence to safety and with no impact to the surrounding environment, and said that they should all be very proud of what they've accomplished to help reduce the threat posed by chemical weapons.
The U.S. Maritime Administration also released a statement proudly supporting the international effort to destroy Syrian chemical weapons and agents by providing the MV Cape Ray and its all-volunteer U.S. Merchant Marine crew to support this critical mission. One of MARAD’s 46 Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships that stand ready to provide rapid movement of equipment and supplies during times of national and humanitarian emergencies, this vessel and its crew illustrate the important contribution that RRF ships and mariners make in supporting U.S. national and economic security. Since 1775, the U.S. Merchant Marine has proudly answered when and where called upon, and the crew of the Cape Ray will continue its work to ensure both protection of the environment and all those aboard.