Bad weather stymies activists' attempt to stop Syrian chemical weapons ship

Marine biologists warn that the process of neutralising chemical weapons could have 'catastrophic' ramifications for the ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea


An attempt by a group of activists, scientists and politicians to sail from Greece to reach the waters where a US container ship is in the process of neutralising part of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile has been thwarted by bad weather.

The team of more than 30 wanted to use the trip, which began on Friday from Crete, to highlight their concerns about what they called a "dangerous precedent". But high waves forced them to turn back their flotilla yesterday, a turn of events that only heightened their concerns.

The MV Cape Ray, the vessel rendering the chemicals inert via a process involving the chemicals being heated and mixed with water, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite inside a titanium reactor, has already converted a significant proportion of the 600 tons on board since beginning its task earlier this month. The hazardous effluent is sent to other facilities to be destroyed.

The neutralisation procedure on board MV Cape Ray is disposing of nearly half of the Syrian arsenal of chemical weapons, the remaining 700 tons will be delivered to commercial and government facilities in Europe and the United States for destruction. The destruction of chemicals on board the vessel is endorsed by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Marine biologists warn that the process could have 'catastrophic' ramifications for the very fragile ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea, where sea water doesn't recycle itself as in oceans.

"Why do this at sea, and set such a dangerous precedent? We're talking about hazardous waste destruction here," said Thodoris Tsimpidis, the director of the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation. "Class-A chemical weapons should not be treated at sea, which is a very unstable environment where anything can go wrong."

Those on the three-boat flotilla included Professor Evangelos Pissias, who said before the boat was turned back that he was prepared to face US military personnel tasked with protecting the M/V Cape Ray.  ““We’re not violating any laws, we’re in our seas but they probably will want to discourage us and while we don’t want to provoke them into anything violent, it’s our duty to send them our message”.

Locals on nearby Crete have also expressed concerns. The mayor of Sfakia, Pavlos Polakis, said that he hoped the efforts of the group would throw light on the issue. "We want to tell [MV Cape Ray] to stop and get out. “

Navy Lieutenant-Commander Alana Garas, of US European Command, said that the US is "committed to ensuring that our Syrian chemical weapon neutralisation effort ensures the safety of people, protects the environment, follows OPCW verification procedures, and is consistent with applicable standards".

The crew of the flotilla said that they had faced large waves in the early hours of yesterday forcing the return of one boat, with the two others being forced to turn around by the evening. However, Lieutenant-Commander Garas said that MV Cape Ray possessed the tools to continue its mission even in bad weather and rough seas. She said that the vessel could move to avoid foul weather. If that is not possible, the ship has "gyrofin stabilisers to dampen the roll" of high seas and that extra time had been allotted to ensure the mission could be completed if operations need to be temporarily shut down because of heavy seas.

The MV Cape Ray continues with it task but it remains unclear whether the activists would sail again to intercept the vessel. Although Mr Polakis struck a defiant tone: “If you don't fight, you don't achieve anything; but if you do, you might achieve something."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living