World Bulletin / News Desk
The international operation to destroy Syrian chemical weapons entered its final phase on Wednesday, as they were transferred by workers at an Italian port from a Danish freighter to a US military ship equipped to dispose of them.
20 tonnes of mustard gas was carried in the first three containers, in the remaining 75 there were raw materials for Sarin nerve gas, among other things.
After three hours, 26 containers had been taken off the Ark Futura by crane and manoeuvred onto the MV Cape Ray by a vast climbing platform.
"Proud of Italy's contribution to international security, [and] a transparent operation which is environmentally safe," Italy's Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said on Twitter as the transfer began.
"For now everything is going well. We have put in a huge amount of effort...to manage the transfer operation smoothly," he said as he watched over the delicate procedure in the port of Gioia Tauro in the southern Reggio Calabria region.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPAC) was overseeing the operation. There were safety officials as well taking precautions of any toxic chemicals being released into the air.
Once the chemical agents have been safely transferred, they will be destroyed in international waters.
It is a program to get rid of Syrias chemical arms stockpile that followed chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus on August 23rd last year.
The transfer and disposal is the result of "the only positive, successful operation carried out on Syrian territory, which could open up new possibilities for disarmament and non-proliferation in the region," Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said.
On late Tuesday, dozens of protestors gathered in the nearby town of San Ferdinando saying they were concerned over the possible health fallout from the Ark Futura, which they have dubbed "the poison ship".
"This is not a routine operation, it's a military operation and we are very worried," trade unionist Domenico Macri told AFP television.
"We have never carried out this type of operation in Gioia Tauro before. If there's an accident, a container breaks or falls, the substances which would come out could do serious damage," he said.
A spokesman said "securing such dangerous agents should be done on land, in absolutely secure conditions," backing up the concerns the protest group SOS Mediterraneo had.
They said that destroying the weapons at sea risked having a devastating effect on Italy's pristine beaches and sea-side communities.
Last Mod: 02 Temmuz 2014, 17:09