Nordic convoy heads for Syria on delayed chemical weapons mission

NICOSIA Fri Jan 3, 2014 3:06pm EST

1 of 2. Commodore Torben Mikkelsen of Denmark, commander of the Danish-Norwegian task group which will transport Syria's chemical agents for destruction, is seen in Limasol, in this handout photo taken January 2, 2014 and released to Reuters on January 3, 2014 by the Norwegian Armed Forces.

Credit: Reuters/Lars Magne Hovtun/Norwegian Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Four Norwegian and Danish vessels, which are due to ship hundreds of tonnes of deadly chemicals out of Syria, headed for international waters off the Syrian coast on Friday, a Norwegian military spokesman said.

The operation has missed its December 31 target date but, Lars Magne Hovtun said, the ships have now left the Cypriot port of Limassol, about 160 miles west of Latakia port where they are due to collect their chemical cargo.

"The four ships have now set a course toward a holding area in international water outside Syria, so we are most ready to enter the port of Latakia when the order arrives," he said.

The original deadline was missed because of poor weather, logistical delays and the conflict inside Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fought to clear rebels from roads along which the chemicals will be transported.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the removal of the chemicals along with Syrian authorities and the United Nations, has not said exactly when the chemicals will be ready to ship from Latakia.

"In any operation of this kind one does not state the day of execution but we are comfortable in the knowledge that all the work is about to be completed," the Special Coordinator of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, Sigrid Kaag, told Reuters this week.

"This is a very complex management exercise - over and above the fact that it is a chemical weapons program that has to be destroyed at a time that a country is at war," he said.

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons under a deal proposed by Russia and hashed out with the United States, after an August 21 sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on Assad's government. Syrian authorities deny they used chemical weapons, blaming rebels for that and other attacks.

Once they have removed the chemicals from Latakia, the Nordic vessels will be escorted by Russian and Chinese ships to an Italian port where the cargo will be loaded onto a U.S.-owned ship adapted to destroy the chemicals.

The U.S. vessel, the Cape Ray, is due to leave the United States for the Mediterranean in about two weeks.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Louise Ireland)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
matthewslyman wrote:
Italian port… Hmmm… I hope there’s a strong military police presence there, and strong accounting to make sure everything offloaded from the Nordic vessels gets loaded directly onto the Cape Ray.

Jan 03, 2014 2:33pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.