The Chemical Ship

M/V Cape Ray
M/V Cape Ray

Chemical weapons are treated like nuclear or biological weapons. Somebody has to handle, transport, store, and dispose of them in a tidy fashion. A single mishap can be deadly, for any damage caused by such weapons is measured in kilometers. In 2013, the Syrian government surrendered its chemical armament to an allied coalition that will, in time, destroy those nasty toys. This is the ship to make it happen.

The M/V Cape Ray is like a floating warehouse. The “roll on/roll off” vessel is designed to transport huge quantities of military supplies from a home port to a foreign theater. They have loading ramps for vehicles, landing decks for helicopters, and heavy-lift cranes. These are the backbone of every major combat deployment. They were instrumental in moving the U.S. Army to the Middle East for Operation Desert Storm. And they are enormous. I once took three snapshots of a Ro/Ro when it underwent repairs in Boston, and had to use a panorama tool to fit the ship on one screen!

With 132,209 sq. ft. of cargo space, Cape Ray is built for the big jobs. But instead of taking pallets or Humvees, the ship will carry a system designed to break down the chemical stockpile into more manageable byproducts. The system can take care of 25 metric tons of chemicals per day. Better that the experts handle the project at sea. Chemical disposal is risky enough away from war zones and crossfire. The ship is at the receiving end of a long transport route:  the chemical weapons are moved overland to the Syrian port of Latakia, then loaded on Danish and Norwegian ships, then brought to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, and finally transferred to the Cape Ray. No doubt every container of lethal materials is kept under guard. This isn’t kid gloves.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, sarin, VX, and mustard gases have already been removed from the Syrian toy box.  But this may only account for four to five percent of the total Syrian stockpile, so political pressure is up for Damascus to speed up the process. With luck, Syria will be rid of its chemical arsenal by March or April, and the crew and experts aboard Cape Ray can finally go home.


Photo: U.S. Navy/Wikipedia


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