By Giada Zampano
Italy chose the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, in the southern region of Calabria, to host the transit of Syrian chemical weapons that will then be destroyed on international waters under a U.S.-Russia sponsored plan.
The choice of the Calabrian port sparked immediate protests from local administrators, who said mounting security concerns among the local communities could lead to violent reactions.
"This is putting my life at risk," Gioia Tauro Mayor Renato Bellofiore told Italian news agency Ansa. "If something happens, people will come pick me up with a pitchfork."
The process, part of an international plan aimed at destroying Syria's chemical arsenal, already was plagued by security concerns and technical delays. After the plan was announced in November, several countries, including Norway, Belgium and Albania, declined to host the destruction.
Italy agreed months ago to host the transfer of the chemicals, which include mustard gas and components of sarin, from a Danish ship to the U.S. vessel MV Cape Ray, which will move into international waters and destroy the chemicals.
"The port of Gioia Tauro has been chosen in light of its specialization, which is containers transshipment," Transportation Minister Maurizio Lupi said in a parliamentary commission hearing on Thursday, when the site was unveiled. He stressed that the chemicals will never touch the Calabrian port's soil.
Mr. Lupi said the transit operation will involve about 60 containers, for a total of about 560 tons of chemicals. "In 2012 and 2013, Gioia Tauro's port managed the transit of about 3,000 containers, totaling about 60,000 tons of materials," Mr. Lupi said, noting those materials required the same security conditions as the Syrian chemicals.
Italian ministers tried to address the safety concerns ensuring that the whole operation will be executed under the highest security conditions and in line with international standards.
The head of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, who supervises the plan, told Italian lawmakers Thursday that he hopes the transit will happen in early February or at latest by the first half of the month. The destruction of the materials in international waters on the U.S. ship should be completed by the next two months.
The first consignment of chemicals was loaded onto a Danish ship last week, and the vessel is waiting for more batches to reach the Syrian port of Latakia.
The OPCW has set a deadline of March 31 for destroying these high-priority chemicals, and the second-tier substances are to be eliminated by June 30, marking the end of Syria's chemical-weapons program.http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304149404579324670785232180