The USA will conduct a sea test of equipment that could be used to neutralise Syria’s chemical weapons aboard a ship, US defence officials have revealed.
Two large hydrolysis units that can turn dangerous chemical substances into a harmless liquid, safe enough to be disposed of at commercial sites are currently being installed below deck on the Cape Ray, a US Merchant Marine ship.
"This is a proven technology," a US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters at the Pentagon. "The chemicals and their reactions are very well understood."
The sea trial of the portable units will commence later this month and will represent the first occasion when toxic chemical substances will be destroyed at sea.
The units are expected to help solve some issues related to the neutralisation of Syria’s chemical weapons. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, has been struggling to arrange for hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals to be safely transported to war-torn Syria's northern port of Latakia, and then stored or destroyed elsewhere.
The new technology will allow for the chemicals to be loaded onto the Cape Ray, which would take the material to the sea, where it will be safely destroyed. The destruction is expected to take 40 – 90 days.
The ship, set to set sail within weeks will carry a 100-strong crew who will have to use protective equipment when treating the chemicals.
"Our assessment is that the risks from the neutralisation operations are very low," the first official said.
It's not yet clear where the Cape Ray would pick up the Syrian chemicals, or where the offshore destruction would take place. The US official said that none of the liquid created by the hydrolysis process would be dumped at sea but would be stored at an undetermined location.