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MV Cape Ray Neutralizes Syria’s Chemical Stockpile While the Mideast Burns

While Syria’s civil war rages on, while ISIS insurgents fight Iraqi government forces, and while the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in Gaza continues, the MV Cape Ray cruises in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea, neutralizing Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons and precursors.

Syria handed over 1,300 metric tons of chemical materials for neutralization. Italian officials loaded 78 containers of Syrian chemical materials, weighing some 600 tons, aboard the Cape Ray on July 2. The remaining 700 tons of chemical materials will be neutralized in Europe and the United States at commercial and government facilities.

Cape Ray hydrolysis

One of two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems installed aboard the Cape Ray. The systems are being used to neutralize chemical materials from Syria. DOD photo by C. Todd Lopez

The Cape Ray departed Gioia Tauro, Italy, where she had been loaded with the chemical materials, shortly after, and headed to international waters to neutralize them.

The Cape May uses field-deployable hydrolysis systems that heat and mix the chemicals weapon agents with reagents such as water, sodium hydroxide, and sodium hypochlorite in a titanium reactor so they become inert, according to DoD documents.

“As of this morning, the crew has neutralized just over 15 percent of the DF [methylphosphonyl difluoride], which is a Sarin [nerve gas] precursor,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a news conference July 18. “This amount has been verified by the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

Cape Ray tent

A tent inside the Cape Ray contains two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems designed to neutralize chemical materials. Each $5 million system is capable of processing between five to 25 metric tons of material daily. The mission requires disposal of 700 metric tons of material. DOD photo by C. Todd Lopez

The other material to be neutralized aboard Cape May is sulfur mustard, also known as HD, which is a mustard gas precursor. Mustard gas was used extensively, to horrific effect, during World War I.

The Cape May uses field-deployable hydrolysis systems that heat and mix the chemicals weapon agents with reagents such as water, sodium hydroxide, and sodium hypochlorite in a titanium reactor so they become inert, according to DoD documents. A safe pace of neutralization operations will increase gradually, Pentagon officials said. Five to 25 metric tons of chemical materials can be processed per day. The process is expected to take about 60 days, according to DoD officials.

Cape Ray reagent tanks

Containers of bleach reagents sit aboard the container ship M/V Cape Ray. The bleach reagents break down chemical agents. U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Isaiah Sellers

The Cape Ray teams will neutralize 600 tons, and the resulting effluent, comprised of the neutralized materials and reagents, will be sent to Finnish and German facilities to be destroyed, according to the DoD.