Author Topic: George Vella plays down chemical weapons danger  (Read 204 times)

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George Vella plays down chemical weapons danger
« on: January 12, 2014, 09:29:47 PM »
By Daniel Mizzi

The "most critical" chemical weapons and agents will be destroyed in international waters just off the coast of Malta, the BBC reports.

The news agency said that while the Syrian authorities are responsible of packing and transporting the chemical weapons to the country's port of Latakia, Danish and Norwegian cargo ships will transport the chemicals to an unnamed port in Italy after which the most serious of chemical agents would be destroyed off Malta's coastline.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella said that as far as he knows no vessels laden with toxic chemicals are expected to pass through Maltese waters, however, he did not exclude whether a part of the vessel might sway through.

"Nonetheless, if it merely passes through Malta's waters, the vessel would not pose a threat," he insisted.

"The US vessel will destroy the toxic chemicals by hydrolysis in a titanium tank. The process removes the chemical's toxicity and renders it harmless into a normal chemical. The only worry would be if the container breaks and if it is inhaled by the people," Vella explained.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the PN said it was a source of concern that the chemical weapons would be destroyed close to Maltese waters.

"The PN expects the Prime Minister to give a full and clear explanation of what will happen and the implications. The government must also say whether the operation will be carried out in Malta's search and rescue area," it said.

The BBC reported that the most serious of chemical agents will then be loaded onto a US maritime cargo ship, the MV Cape Ray, and destroyed in a specially created titanium tank in international waters off Malta's coast.

"Syria's chemical weapons would not be destroyed inside Malta's territorial waters, but conversely, they will be destroyed outside Malta's territorial waters," Vella reassured while playing down reports.

Asked whether the government were consulted on the route of the vessels carrying the chemical weapons, the minister said the government had no say on the route and that it would be "watching like any other country."

He argued that the chemicals would only pose to a threat to the people's safety if the chemicals are inhaled or touched.

"As a result, in order to alleviate this worry, the OPCW has embarked on several safety procedures and more importantly, the weapons are going to be destroyed away from people on international waters."

In December, the Maltese government announced a €15,000 contribution towards the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemicals Weapons (OPCW) - the organisation responsible for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons outside Syria's territory. Malta OPCW representative Ambassador Martin Valentino had said the government remains committed to support the destruction of Syria's chemical stockpile.

"The government remains committed to support the efforts, the work and the measures being taken by the OPCW Technical Secretariat, with regard to the destruction of such abhorrent weapons," Valentino had said.

However, George Vella said that this as far as it goes in terms of Malta's contribution to the OPCW.

Meanwhile, the minister also said that the chemical weapons would not be disposed of in the sea.

"Due to environmental laws, the chemicals will not be disposed of in the sea, but rather, the toxic chemicals will be transported by Danish vessels and disposed of at commercial facilities."

Initially hampered by logistical problems, bad weather as well as Syria's worsening conflict, the war-torn country started moving chemical weapons earlier this week. In a crucial phase of an internationally backed disarmament programme, the first consignment of toxic chemical left Syria on board a Danish commercial vessel.

The joint mission overseeing the disarmament, the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), had said that the materials were move from two sites in Syria to the port of Latakia and subsequently loaded onto the Danish vessel.

Russia is supplying large-capacity armoured lorries, while the US is deploying container drums and GPS locators. Moreover, the operation has seen Denmark and Norway provide cargo vessels and military escorts during the transportation of the chemical agents.

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed with the United States after an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people. Western nations blamed President Bashar al-Assad's forces for the attack while Damascus blamed the rebels for the attack.

The exact size of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal is not known, but a French intelligence assessment published in September 2013, had said that Damascus has more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and precusor chemicals including sulphur mustard, sarin and VX. The UN envisages the destruction of Syria's chemical stockpile by the middle of next year.

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