The MV Cape Ray and its crew arrived at U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain, Thursday for what was likely to be a long wait to embark on its mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons at sea.
Only about 11 percent of Syria's huge stockpile of mostly mustard gas and sarin nerve gas has been shipped out of the country to date, according to an international watchdog agency.
The U.S. Embassy in Spain said that the Cape Ray will stay in Rota until Syria delivers on its pledge to the United Nations Security Council to hand over all of its chemical weapons .
The Syrian regime of President Hafez al-Assad has already missed deadlines for moving the weapons stores to the Syrian port of Latakia, citing the ongoing civil war and bad weather. Syria now says it is committed to having all the weapons out by June 30.
Under threat of Tomahawk cruise missile attack by Navy ships off the coast, Syria agreed last September to empty its stockpiles with Russian assistance.
Two small shipments of Syria's chemical weapons, believed to amount to about 11 percent of the stockpile, have been moved out thus far by international convoys of Danish and Norwegian ships from Latakia to storage facilities at the Italian port of Gioia Tauro.
The UN and U.S. plan was to have the Cape Ray pick up the containerized chemical weapons at Gioia Taura and then destroy them at an undisclosed location at sea.
Citing the missed deadlines, Ahmet Üzümcu, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has called on Syria to "pick up the pace."
"Ways and means must be found to establish continuity and predictability of shipments" to assure the international community that the plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons "while delayed is not deferred," Uzumcu told his executive council.
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Spain said: "When Syria has completed removal of the chemicals, MV Cape Ray will depart Rota and proceed to the transloading port in Italy, where she will take the chemicals aboard."
"The United States plans to neutralize the chemicals at sea in international waters using proven hydrolysis technology," the statement said.
"All waste from the hydrolysis process aboard MV Cape Ray will be safely and properly stored on board MV Cape Ray until it is disposed of at commercial facilities to be determined by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)," the statement continued.
At the Pentagon Wednesday, Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman, said "we expect [the Cape Ray] to remain in Rota until such time as she's prepared to transload all of the Syrian chemical weapons."
The stop in Rota for the 650-foot Cape Ray was unscheduled. The ship left Portsmouth, Va., on Jan. 27 with the intent of going straight to the Italian port. The ship has 35 civilians operating the vessel and a 63-member team aboard for destroying the weapons.
In Portsmouth, the Cape Ray was outfitted with two main Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems to neutralize the chemicals.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com.
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