With praise and encouragement from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel himself, the SIU crew of the MV Cape Ray dove into the first part of its three-month mission to destroy parts of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The Keystone-operated Cape Ray departed from Portsmouth, Va., Jan. 27 to take part in an historic mission to eliminate nearly 700 tons of chemical weapons at sea, in international waters. Sailing as a Military Sealift Command vessel, the 648-foot Cape Ray has a crew that includes 35 civilian mariners, more than 60 U.S. Army chemical specialists, a security team and representatives from U.S. European command. Members of the Machinists are on board, too.
In a statement released as the Cape Ray left for its mission, Hagel commended the crew for “accomplish(ing) something no one has tried” and helping to make the world safer.
“As you all know, your task will not be easy. Your days will be long and rigorous. But your hard work, preparation and determination will make the difference,” Hagel said. “You are ready. We all have complete confidence in each of you. Your represent the best of our nation, not only because of your expertise and commitment, but because of your willingness to serve when called upon. For that, we will always be grateful.”
The Cape Ray’s deployment comes following an international agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The country has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011 and more than 1,400 people were killed in a chemical attack last August. International outrage followed that incident and Syria agreed shortly thereafter to give up its entire chemical weapons stockpile.
Under the agreement, the Syrian government is supposed to transport the chemical weapons to 12 undisclosed sites where they will be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships. Those vessels will then take the weapons to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro and transfer the weapons to the Cape Ray there. The ship will then travel to an undisclosed area in international waters to destroy the chemical weapons, which include mustard gas and a form of sarin nerve gas.
In order to complete its mission, the Cape Ray was outfitted with a pair of massive units designed to break down and neutralize the chemical weapons. These units are installed at the center of the Cape Ray’s cargo hold and are covered with a plastic tent to protect the crew during the neutralization process. Inside, the system uses water and a chemical cocktail to break down the weapons.
Once that process is complete, the crew will have approximately 6,600 tons of waste that will be transported and eliminated elsewhere. The entire process is expected to take 90 days and will not dump any waste into the ocean.
In a press conference aboard the Cape Ray prior to its departure, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Frank Kendall, explained why the weapons were being destroyed in international waters. The main reasons have to do with safety and international law.
“This avoids having to put these materials on somebody’s territory, where you have to deal with all the political and environmental conditions associated with doing that under local law,” he said.
The SIU crew aboard the Cape Ray includes: Bosun William Lima, ABs Walter Ott, Jonathan Davis, George Phillips, Mark Brownell and Shaun Wood, QE4 James Anthony Fells, QEEs Kevin Quinlan and Mark Maduro, Oiler Andre Mitchell, GVAs Lance Spain and Dionta Winstead, Steward/Baker Edward Banks, Chief Cooks Jose David, Helen Mitchell, Emanuel Spain and Sandra Vann, and SAs Cornelius Taylor, Arica Shaw, Jacqueline Sivels, Mary Slade and Emanuel Spain.