A Danish ship has removed the first round of Syrian chemical weapons as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations begin to dispose of some 1,300 tons of sarin and the nerve agent VX.
Escorted by Chinese and Russian warships on Tuesday, the vessel departed from the Syrian port of Latakia. It will sail past Cyprus toward an unnamed port in Italy before being transferred on to a U.S. Maritime Administration cargo ship, the MV Cape Ray, where the worst chemicals will be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. The less harmful ones will be taken to commercial facilities for destruction.
The joint mission, run by the UN and the OPCW, was brokered by Russia and the United States in September after rockets were fired at three towns in the Ghouta area around Damascus, killing hundreds of civilians. The U.S. accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of the atrocity, but he blamed the rebels.
Initial attempts to get hold of the chemicals for destruction were in vain because Syrian officials failed to deliver the initial loads to Latakia after heavy fighting along the main road between Latakia and Damascus.
After months of planning, a small number of containers were loaded onto the Ark Futura cargo ship. The ship will sail out into international waters and wait until the remaining chemicals are ready for collection.
"This is an important step commencing the transportation of these materials as part of the plan to complete their disposal," OPCW Director-General Mehmet Uzumcu said.
"I encourage the Syrian government to maintain the momentum to remove the remaining priority chemicals, in a safe and timely manner, so that they can be destroyed outside of Syria as quickly as possible."