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U.S. ship prepping for chemical mission
A sailor stands on the deck of the Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad with the Danish navy warship HDMS Esbern Snare seen in the background (L) in the port of Limassol in the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus on January 2, 2014.  (AFP PHOTO/STR)
A sailor stands on the deck of the Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad with the Danish navy warship HDMS Esbern Snare seen in the background (L) in the port of Limassol in the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus on January 2, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/STR)
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BEIRUT: A cargo ship is being outfitted in Virginia with sophisticated technology capable of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons at sea.

The 197-meter MV Cape Ray is undergoing work in a Portsmouth shipyard before its sea trials and voyage to the Mediterranean.

The announcement came after Syria missed a Dec. 31 deadline for the removal of part of its chemical weapons arsenal for destruction, but international inspectors insisted the overall mission was still on track.

Syria had been due to turn over some of the deadliest chemicals in its arsenal to ships by the end of the year, for delivery to the U.S. boat.

The ship can treat more than two dozen metric tons of chemicals daily in international waters.

Norwegian and Danish ships that had been waiting off the Syrian coast returned to port in Cyprus late Monday as it became clear the mission would not go ahead as scheduled.

Lars Hovtun, a spokesman for the Norwegian ship HNoMS Helge Ingstad, gave no new date for the mission to escort the cargo out of Syria. “We are still on high alert to go into Syria,” he said. “We still don’t know exactly when the orders will come.”

The international disarmament mission in Syria had acknowledged it was “unlikely” the weapons could be transported to Latakia port in time for the Dec. 31 deadline.

The U.S. says a chemical weapons attack last August in a suburb of Damascus, Syria, killed 1,400 people. The Syrian government has since agreed to a U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate its chemical arms.

But the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons remained positive, saying the overall plan to rid Syria of its chemical arsenal was on track. “An enormous amount of work has been accomplished in three months,” OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier said.

“Syria’s chemical arsenal has been completely neutralized, the chemical agents and chemical products are under international control, have been sealed ... The effective dismantling of the production and filling plants is on course.”

Chartier said the operation was still on track to meet a deadline to rid Syria of its chemical arsenal by mid-2014.

Nevertheless, the head of the disarmament mission, Sigrid Kaag, called on all parties including Damascus to “intensify efforts” to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal within the timetable.

Kaag told AFP the delay was the result of various obstacles and underlined the complexity of dismantling a chemical weapons program in an active war zone.

“We made it known that the deadline was unlikely to be met. However, we’ve also made it known that continued solid progress has been achieved,” Kaag said.

“And we’re calling on all parties, including the Syrian Arab Republic, to intensify efforts needed to get to the point of the start of the removal of the chemical agents.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 03, 2014, on page 8.
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