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Syria's chemical weapons may be destroyed at sea

Updated: 2013-11-20 12:05
( Agencies)
Syria's chemical weapons may be destroyed at sea

Syrians, fleeing the violence from the Syrian town of Qara, queue to register to get help from relief agencies at the Lebanese border town of Arsal, in the eastern Bekaa Valley Nov 18, 2013. Hundreds of Syrians queued in the bleak winter rain of a Lebanese border town on Monday, seeking refuge from a Syrian army attack which could herald a wider offensive north of Damascus. The attack on Qara, which started at first light on Friday, drove an estimated 1,200 families across the frontier to the Lebanese town of Arsal, most of them in the first 24 hours of bombardment. [Photo/Agencies]


Ralf Trapp, an independent chemical disarmament specialist, said of the offshore decommissioning suggestion: "It had to come up as an option at some point in time, given the circumstances.

He added: "Technically it can be done, and in fact at a small scale it has been done."

Japan destroyed hundreds of chemical bombs at an offshore facility several years ago. And Trapp said setting up a disposal plant on a floating platform might not differ greatly from the Pacific atoll where the United States destroyed much of its chemical arsenal through the 1990s.

Trapp said Syria's stockpile would require more complex treatment than the World War Two bombs that Japan found on the seabed, raised and destroyed off the port of Kanda from 2004-06.

The Japanese munitions, as a finished product, did not produce liquid waste, he said. By contrast, much of Syria's stockpile is of bulk "precursor" materials that were stored in order to manufacture weapons at a later stage. Burning these, or neutralising them with other chemicals in a process known as hydrolysis, would produce large amounts of toxic fluids.

"If you use hydrolysis or incineration, there will be liquid waste," Trapp said. "So there will be problems with regard to environmental pollution that need to be addressed."

Countries around the Mediterranean might not relish the prospect of such an operation, though shipping the Syrian material further afield could also pose difficulties.

Siting a facility close to shore could risk the kind of demonstrations in Tirana that forced Albania's government to change tack. Further out at sea could pose other problems, such as providing a rapid response to emergencies.

Trapp said that a "large floating platform at sea would not be fundamentally different" from the now dismantled US chemical weapons destruction facility at Johnston Atoll in the North Pacific: "There are many technical and legal challenges," he said. "But it may be an alternative worthwhile considering."

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