By Stefanos Evripidou
A DANISH naval frigate has docked at Limassol port as part of a proposed Danish/Norwegian joint mission to transport chemical warfare agents out of Syria.
The naval frigate, named Esbern Snare, arrived in Limassol on Monday, after having patrolled the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean as part of NATO’s anti-piracy mission, Operation Ocean Shield.
The frigate, holding around 140-150 people, is the first of two frigates due on the island. The second, coming from Norway, is expected in the coming days while two specialised cargo vessels (one each from Denmark and Norway) are expected to join the naval frigates as part of a four-vessel task force ready to provide assistance in the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.
The Danish Foreign Ministry announced last week that Denmark and Norway have offered to transport the chemical weapons out of Syria, following a decision of the UN Security Council (Resolution 2118) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to oversee the timely elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme in the safest and most secure manner possible.
The Hague-based OPCW was thrown into the limelight after being tasked with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons as part of a deal to avert a US-led air strike after sarin gas was used in a Damascus suburb on August 21, killing hundreds of people.
An OPCW roadmap adopted last month said “priority” chemical weapons must be removed from Syria by December 31.
In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday in Oslo, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu was quoted by Hurriyet Daily News saying that no weapon “has a monopoly on cruelty or lethality, but chemical weapons have, by any measure, an especially nefarious legacy.”
He added: “You cannot see them. You cannot smell them. And they offer no warning for the unsuspecting.”
Before picking up the award, he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons could begin in late January.
“We hope that by the end of January, the destruction on the American ship could start,” said the Turkish national.
“Much will depend in fact on the security situation and unfortunately the security situation has deteriorated over the past weeks. Some roads were not accessible,” he said.
According to AFP, the weapons are due to be destroyed aboard the US Navy’s MV Cape Ray, a 200 metre cargo ship equipped, but first they must be transported through the chaos of a civil war to Latakia port in Syria.
This is where the Danish/Norwegian proposal comes in for a joint operation using two naval frigates for security and two civilian roll-on, roll-off vessels to carry the lethal cargo from Syria.
Denmark will lead the maritime operation, whereas Norway will hold the post as deputy commander.
A number of legal issues remain pending but approval of the joint mission is expected by the end of next week, after which all four vessels will leave Limassol for Syria.
At the same time, OPCW officials are using Cyprus as a base, coming and going from the UN-controlled Nicosia Airport, after the Cypriot government offered to provide the chemical weapons watchdog shelter from the storm during its mission.
Danish Ambassador Casper Klynge told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that following the first naval frigate, the remaining vessels are due to arrive in Cyprus within a week, after which they will await the formal go-ahead to depart for Syria.
Once there, they will pick up the deadly cargo and keep it at sea until the US Navy vessel arrives in the region, from where it will use a process known as hydrolysis to neutralise the ‘category one’ chemical weapons at sea.
It remains to be seen which port the Nordic vessels will use to dock and unload the chemical weapons so they may be loaded on to the US vessel.
According to sources, Cyprus ports are not on the list of possibilities. Once the mission starts and the weapons are picked up, the Nordic vessels will not use the island’s facilities.
Klynge expressed his country’s “huge appreciation” to Cyprus for its support to the OPCW mission which uses Cyprus as a base for its staff, and to the concrete support to Denmark and Norway in preparing for the maritime mission.
“Cyprus has been incredibly helpful and really beneficial to all of us. We are extremely grateful,” he said.