A specially equipped U.S. ship has finished neutralizing all 600 metric tons of the most dangerous of Syria's chemical weapons components surrendered to the international community this year to avert threatened airstrikes, the Pentagon said on Monday.
It said the Cape Ray, equipped with the U.S.-developed Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, neutralized 581.5 metric tons of DF, a sarin precursor chemical, and 19.8 metric tons of HD, an ingredient of sulfur mustard, while afloat in the Mediterranean.
The vessel will travel to Finland and Germany in the next two weeks to unload the resulting effluent, which will undergo treatment as industrial waste to render it safer, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
It was the first time chemical weapons components had been neutralized at sea, the Pentagon said.
U.S. President Barack Obama says the destruction of the last of Syria's declared chemical stockpile is a major milestone in stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
The operation was finished weeks ahead of schedule.
Obama says the job performed by civilian and military experts on the MV Cape Ray sends a clear message that using these weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.
The president says the U.S. will watch Syria closely to see it it carries out its commitment to destroy its remaining chemical weapons production facilities.
Damascus agreed last September to a Russian proposal to give up its chemical weapons to avert threatened military strikes by the United States and France, which accused Syria of using the arms against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
A number of countries are involved in eliminating the chemical stockpiles. The United States was selected to dispose of the worst of the chemical weapons components because it had recently developed a mobile version of the hydrolysis system it uses for neutralizing chemical stockpiles.
The system uses substances and mixtures such as water, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite to neutralize bulk amounts of chemical warfare agents, according to the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
Earlier this year, the hydrolysis system was placed aboard the Cape Ray, a 648-foot (198-meter) vessel that is part of the U.S. Maritime Administration's ready reserve force of 46 ships.
The ship was held at Rota, Spain, for several months due to Syrian delays in handing over its declared stockpiles of chemical agents. The Cape Ray began neutralizing the chemicals after picking them up from Italy in late June.