PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Months after the international community declared success in the effort to dispose of Syria’s lethal chemical weapons — complete with the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the weapons inspectors — the centerpiece of the mission, a workhorse U.S. military ship that will ferry the weapons to sea for destruction, remains here in port, waiting like a sad bride for her groom.
The ship’s captain, Rick Jordan, does not have his shipping orders, nor does he know exactly which country he is headed to. He has yet to be told on which body of water the unprecedented task of destroying 700 tons of lethal chemicals on his ship, the Cape Ray, will occur.
But the ship — equipped with a complex array of tanks and valves worthy of Dr. Frankenstein — is ready for its historic mission.
“A year ago, we were not in a position to do this,” said Frank Kendall, a Defense Department undersecretary who spoke to reporters who toured the Cape Ray today. Now a team of chemists, maritime experts and others have worked with existing technology and are ready to go.
Syria, however, is not. Late last month, the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group charged with the removal efforts, said in a joint statement that security conditions in Syria had “constrained planned movements” and that bad weather had foiled plans to move the weapons out by the target date of Dec. 31. Among the biggest problems is the highway that joins Damascus to the coast, which has been recently retaken by the government but where rebel forces continue to be a threat to vehicles and the fear of ambush remains intense.
The plan is for numerous countries to transport the chemicals from a dozen storage sites across Syria to a port town, most likely Latakia.
In the Syrian port, the materials are to be fetched by Danish and Norwegian ships, with support from Finland and security provided by Russia and China.
The Cape Ray is to be positioned in the port, take the weapons on board and then head out to sea.
Once there, the crew members are to begin the daunting task of neutralizing the weapons.
The entire process, which officials said they hoped would begin within the next two weeks, would take roughly 90 days to complete, allowing for weather and other factors.