How the chemical components of Syria’s declared chemical weapon stockpile were destroyed
What types of chemicals were transported and destroyed?
The Syrian chemical warfare programme was based primarily on binary systems, which means two toxic substances have to be brought together to create a highly toxic chemical warfare agent. These less toxic substances comprised the large bulk of the chemicals that were removed from Syria aboard Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels (MV Ark Futura and MV Taiko, respectively), together with a far smaller quantity of ready-to-use sulfur mustard, a blistering agent.
Such toxic chemicals are routinely transported around the world and there are specific laws and regulations in place regarding their safe transportation. All of the chemicals removed from Syria were stored in bulk containers and drums; they were not contained within bombs, shells or warheads and there were no explosives associated with them.
How were the chemicals transported?
In Syria, the bulk containers and drums were all securely packed and loaded into standard shipping containers. The containers were then transported to the port of Latakia for loading on to the Danish and Norwegian cargo ships. The Syrian authorities received advice and support in this regard from the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization, and Syrian personnel were trained to perform their work in accordance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. The cargo ships were equipped with additional capacity to deal with chemical spills or emergencies and a special chemical response team was available, along with expert chemical response personnel from Finland.
How was the security of the transport operations ensured?
Warships from Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom provided continuous security to the cargo ships until the chemicals were off-loaded. Naval vessels from the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation provided security to the cargo ships while in Syrian territorial waters.
How did the chemicals reach their final destinations?
The MV Taiko had to leave the maritime operation in early June 2014 before the last of the chemicals were removed from Syria, when it transported a consignment of Priority 2 chemicals to commercial facilities in Finland (Ekokem) and the United States (Veolia). The MV Ark Futura collected the final containers of chemicals from Latakia on 23 June 2014 and then sailed to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, where shipping containers holding 600 metric tonnes of Priority 1 chemicals were transloaded to a US ship, the MV Cape Ray (by comparison to this operation, the port of Gioia Tauro transhipped a total of 29,802 MT of similar IMDG Class 6.1 goods in 2013). The MV Ark Futura then transported the remaining chemicals it had aboard to commercial facilities in the United Kingdom (Priority 1 and 2) and Finland (Priority 2).
How were the chemicals destroyed?
The majority of Priority 1 chemicals were destroyed at sea on board the MV Cape Ray. The US Department of Defense outfitted the vessel with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems [PDF – 3.24 MB] (FDHS), which were designed on the basis of technology used in the US chemical weapons destruction programme to hydrolyse thousands of metric tonnes of chemical warfare agents over the past four decades. The FDHS uses water, sodium hydroxide (NaOH), sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) and heat to hydrolyse the chemicals with 99.9 percent effectiveness. The reaction mass from the hydrolysis operations, or effluent, was safely stored on board the MV Cape Ray and no chemicals on the vessel were released into the environment.
Which commercial firms were selected to carry out the destruction of these chemical materials?
The Priority 2 chemicals removed from Syria, and the effluent produced by the hydrolysis process on board the MV Cape Ray, were destroyed at commercial land-based facilities. For this purpose, the OPCW published a Call for Proposals for Transport, Treatment and Disposal of Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Organic and Inorganic Chemicals, Effluents and Related Materials. A total of 14 companies submitted bids to undertake this work and, following technical and commercial evaluation of the bids, the preferred bidders were announced on 14 February 2014. Contracts were signed with two companies – Ekokem Oy Ab from Finland, and Veolia Environmental Services Technical Solutions in the USA.
In addition, the UK government agreed to destroy a portion of Syria’s chemical stockpile, and on 6 August 2014 it announced that 190 metric tonnes of two Priority 1 chemicals had been completely destroyed in a commercial incineration facility at Ellesmere Port. The effluent created by the hydrolysis of sulfur mustard, one of the Priority 1 chemicals aboard the MV Cape Ray, were destroyed at GEKA, a government facility in Germany, while the remaining effluent was destroyed by Ekokem.
Were any chemicals dumped in the sea?
No chemicals or effluents were dumped in the sea at any stage of the removal and destruction process. Destruction of the chemicals at sea aboard the MV Cape Ray took place in full accordance with international law, including applicable requirements prohibiting the dumping or other discharge of pollutants into ocean waters. In addition, the dumping of chemical weapons in any body of water is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention’s Verification Annex (see Part IV(A), para 13), which prohibits “dumping in any body of water, land burial or open pit burning”.
Furthermore, Article IV, para 10 of the Convention states: “Each State Party, during transportation, sampling, storage and destruction of chemical weapons, shall assign the highest priority to ensuring the safety of people and to protecting the environment. Each State Party shall transport, sample, store and destroy chemical weapons in accordance with its national standards for safety and emissions.”
A complementary fact sheet on “environment and health protection” is available on the OPCW-UN Joint Mission