July 2, 2014 / 7:04 PM / 4 years ago

Ships transfer Syrian chemical agents in southern Italy

ROME (Reuters) - A Danish ship carrying some of Syria’s most dangerous chemical agents transferred them on Wednesday to an American cargo vessel equipped with special gear to neutralise them at sea, officials said.

The Danish ship Ark Future (top C), carrying a cargo of Syria's chemical weapons, is seen as it arrives at Gioia Tauro port in southern Italy July 2, 2014. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

The operation was successfully completed in the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro, the Italian environment ministry said, after a series of delays in the internationally-backed plan to destroy the Damascus government’s stock of chemical arms.

The containers were transferred from the Danish vessel Ark Future, which had brought the agents from Syria, to the converted U.S. container ship Cape Ray.

Cape Ray will sail them into the middle of the Mediterranean over the next few days and start turning them into a much less poisonous soup of chemicals, ready for disposal back on land, officials from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Experts have said the process could take between 60 to 90 days, depending on the weather.

The Damascus government, fighting a more than three-year-old civil war, agreed to hand over its stockpile, which includes precursors for the deadly nerve agent sarin, under a deal backed by Washington and Moscow in September.

The agreement averted U.S. military strikes after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of Syria’s capital, Damascus.

Last month, Syria handed over the remaining 8 percent of the 1,300 tonnes it declared to the OPCW, which is monitoring the process.

The Syrian government had said fighting delayed the transfer of the last parts of its stockpile. The Cape Ray had been docked in southern Spain for weeks.

Reporting by Philip Pullella and Gavin Jones; Editing by Andrew Roche

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