NICOSIA/UNITED NATIONS: A Danish-Norwegian flotilla is preparing to remove Syria’s chemical weapons from the war-torn country by conducting emergency rescue drills off the southern coast of Cyprus.
Flotilla spokesman Eystein Malkenes Kvarving said Sunday the four-ship group is carrying out drills, including firefighting and ship-to-ship transfers of injured personnel.
Kvarving said the ships would likely make more than one trip to Syria to pick up all the agents.
Two cargo ships and their warship escorts are waiting at Cyprus’ Limassol port for word on when they can travel to Syria to begin hauling out more than 1,000 tons of chemical agents.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.N. said Saturday that a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most toxic chemicals was unlikely to be met. They urged President Bashar Assad’s government to “intensify efforts” to meet internationally set deadlines.
The year-end deadline was the first key milestone under a U.N. Security Council-backed deal arranged by Russia and the United States that aims to wipe out all of Syria’s chemical arms by the middle of 2014.
“Preparations continue in readiness for the transport of most of the critical chemical material from the Syrian Arab Republic for outside destruction. However, at this stage, transportation of the most critical chemical material before 31 December is unlikely,” said a joint U.N.-OPCW statement.
Syria’s worsening civil war, logistical problems and bad weather had held up the operation to move chemical agents to the port of Latakia, the two bodies said.
Under an internationally agreed plan, the chemicals will be taken to a port in Italy where they are to be transported to a U.S. Navy ship specially fitted with equipment to destroy the weapons at sea.