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February 14, 2014
February 14, 2014

The chemicals of Syria threaten Mediterranean

Author: Anda Psarra Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Source: EfSyn  Category: Letters from home
This article is also available in: esel
The chemicals of Syria threaten Mediterranean

The opposition front is widened with MPs from Crete and the Commissioner [1] Maria Damanaki asking the European authorities for explanations. Also, there are more and more reports about the risks of the chosen method of destruction, as it has been tested only once and on land.

The neutralisation of chemicals on board Cape Ray will take place in international waters, so the legislation pertinent to the sea can be overridden. This worldwide first will transform the open seas in a zone devoid of any democratic control and any environmental and social constraints.

While closing our borders to Syrian refugees, we open the Mediterranean gates to receive this country’s toxic chemicals, with minimum guarantees and without the consensus of scientists and environmental organisations. Reports are intensified, in the Greek and international press, about the dangerous consequences of the process and method the chemicals will be destroyed with, waking up, finally, not only international organisations and scientists, but also many MPs in Greece and Europe.

The voices of the 37 MEPs (01/16/2014) on this issue, towards the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, have been joined by those of MPs from Crete and the Commissioner Maria Damanaki, seeking clarification on the matter. As much as the Deputy Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas and the Minister Evangelos Venizelos tried to provide “reassuring” answers, it is certain that the necessary warranties do not exist and, with the method chosen, it will be difficult to make totally safe predictions.

Legal “ploy”

The head of DIMAR’s [2] Green Policies and Ecology sector, Thrasos Fotinos, informed us about some overall data overturning the government certainty and outlining the enormous risks and the legal “ploy” that enables the conversion of the Mediterranean to a chemical dump. He reiterates that “the processing of Syrian chemicals on board the American Cape Ray is a predetermined solution. This offshore operation launches the industrialisation of the oceans”. Specifically:

* This particular vessel, Cape Ray, (Ro-Ro type) is part of the American fleet carrying military equipment. This type of ship is particularly vulnerable to fires and water ingress. A Ro-Ro ship is flooded in minutes and is quickly sunk along with its cargo (the totality of chemical waste to be processed will go on board the Cape Ray). The improvements made to the ship do not guarantee the seaworthiness in case of serious structural damage. The Cape Ray was built 36 years ago. On average, Ro-Ro types of ship go to scrap after 30 years.

* The Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS), for chemicals pre-treatment destined for chemical weapons, developed by the U.S. Department of Defence in partnership with the industry, is a pilot system. Its development was completed this summer. The system’s ability to process continuously and safely from 500 to 600 tons of toxic substances is yet to be established. It has been manufactured for use on land. Using it for the first time on an industrial scale on board a ship is an adventurous undertaking fraught with dangers for the crew, the technicians and the environment. The waste produced by this method is 800 tons of sludge per 500 tons of chemicals, while it is not determined how and where this sludge will be destroyed. Additionally, judging from the ship equipment (air filters), it becomes clear that there will be gas emissions, as well, during the hydrolysis process.

* As for the legal part, it should be reminded that the US has not ratified the Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. For them to be legally exported from Syria to Cape Ray, according to the United States regulations, there should be a specific agreement between the exporting State and the host State (Articles 4 and 11 of the Basel Convention). The neutralisation of chemicals on board Cape Ray will take place in international waters, so the legislation for the sea can be overridden. This world premiere will transform the open seas in a zone devoid of any democratic control and any environmental and social constraints.

A threat for fishermen

* The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United States declare that 500 tons of Syrian precursor substances should be dealt with at sea within a couple of weeks, while the final destruction of the American chemical weapons will not be completed before 2023. On land, the US hopes to destroy 3,100 tons within 10 years. At sea they are convinced that they can process 500 tons within four weeks.

* For the time being, a low degree Ro-Ro, the Arc Futura, with a total of 38 deficiencies since 2000 at European ports, is manoeuvring somewhere in the Mediterranean loaded with an unknown amount of chemical weapons. Only when all the facilities of this particular ship are emptied and all the guns are loaded in Arc Futura and another Ro-Ro specialising in car transportation, the US floating factory will take action. In the planning no refuge port has been foreseen, in case there is a major complication during the hydrolysis process on the Cape Ray.

The inhabitants of the Mediterranean, the fishermen and the fish are not going to get rid of the threat. The organisation Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) hopes that the current plan for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons is abandoned.

The precursor substances and other components of Syrian chemical weapons could be processed on the ground in Europe, in the US or in other countries and regions where the best techniques are available, but these countries have refused.


[1] Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

[2] Party formed by ex-members of Syriza; despite its left-wing past, it was a member of the coalition government formed after the 2012 election, actively supporting neo-liberal and authoritarian policies.

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