Vella rubbishes fears over destruction of Syrian chemical weapons

Foreign minister downplays threat of chemical dumping, despite intensive international criticism over destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in the Mediterranean

George Vella, with his Italian counterpart Emma Bonino at the European Council
George Vella, with his Italian counterpart Emma Bonino at the European Council

Despite the intensive international criticism and fears revolving around the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in the Mediterranean, Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella yesterday reassured that the process carries no risks for Malta and surrounding countries.  

Dismissing the these fears as "unnecessary panic," Vella explained that the toxic chemicals found in the weapons only pose a danger to humans if these are inhaled or come into contact with skin.

Downplaying the concerns raised in Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean nations as "misconceptions," Vella denied that the by-products of the treated chemicals "will not be dumped at sea".

Although the minister said that if these by-products are released in the air or diluted in water, they would pose no risk to humans or the environment, Vella explained that Germany was among a number of countries which had already offered to burn or store the by-products. 

Although the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile of 30 tonnes of mustard gas and about 1,300 tonnes of toxic chemicals required to produce sarin and mustard gas was supposed to be completed by December 2013, it appears to have stalled.

So far, only 15 tonnes have been shipped out of the Syrian port of Latakia. With the deadline to remove the entire stockpile from Syria by 14 February approaching fast, in all likelihood the final deadline to destroy the chemicals by June will not be reached.

This has raised more concern in surrounding countries such as Greece, and residents of the Greek island of Crete are up in arms claiming the process will cause serious pollution, environmental degradation and severe threats to public health.

Moreover, an international petition against the dumping of the Syrian chemicals in the Mediterranean has already been set up in the petition website

The process

Syria agreed to destroy its arsenal of chemical weapons in a deal brokered by the US and Russia in 2013.

It followed international outrage when rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin were fired at three towns around the Syrian capital, Damascus, on 21 August.

Hundreds of people were killed in the attacks and while Western powers held Syrian government forces responsible, President Bashar al-Assad blamed rebel fighters for the deadly attacks.

Under a timetable established by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is collaborating with the United Nations in a joint mission to oversee the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons under a Security Council resolution the entire stockpile must be destroyed by mid-2014.

According to the timetable, the Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from 12 sites across the country to the port of Latakia.

While Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, the US has sent container drums and GPS locators. Russia will also provide security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment. China has sent 10 ambulances and surveillance cameras, and Finland sent an emergency response team in case of accidents.

Denmark and Norway provided cargo ships and military escorts to take the chemicals to a port in Italy. Russian and China will provide further naval escorts.

In Italy, the "most critical" chemical agents will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Less toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.

The Italian government has announced that the port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria will be the site of a transfer the chemical weapons, prompting concern from the town's mayor who said, "They are putting my life in jeopardy. If something happens the people will come after me with a pitchfork".

Italian transport minister Maurizio Lupi said the southern port had been chosen as the place where 60 containers of deadly toxins would be transferred from a Danish ship to a US vessel.

However, he reassured that none of the containers would be brought to shore and the operation would be carried out in "absolutely secure conditions".

The first consignment of toxic chemicals left Syria on a Danish ship early this week. A first load of the materials is being stored on board the Danish ship Arc Futura in international waters.

Once transferred to the US navy ship, crew members will begin the daunting task of neutralising the weapons with a system that heats the chemicals and mixes them with water or sodium hydroxide to degrade them.

The entire process, which officials said they hoped would begin within the next two weeks, would take roughly 90 days to complete, allowing for weather and other factors.

.. and if they bought them from the Russians I believe the Kremlin will be a good dumping site.
If they are harmless, why they don't dump them in Lake Michigan?
The hon minister is trying to convince us that there is no danger in dumping these bloody armaments a few miles down Filfla. Now he should try to convince the hon Labour Euro parliamentarian who last Thursday was reported to have signed a petition against such a decision, n'est pas?
Here is the link for that petition. Please do go and sign it if you value your health and life and thse of youre families. UN, OPCW, Prime Ministers of Greece, Malta and Italy: Don't allow the dumping of 800 tonnes of chemical weapons in Mediterranean
Dangers of Mustard Gas : First used by the German Army in 1917, mustard gad became one of the deadliest poisonous gases used in WW!. People who come in contact with mustard gas, or “yperite”, would usually get the following effects : blistering skin, extremely sore eyes, vomiting, external and internal bleeding. Also mustard attacked the bronchial tubes , which led to stripping off the mucus membrane . The pain caused by mustard gas was excruciating, and many victims had to be strapped to their beds. The eyes would being to stick, causing blindness in most cases. It often took 4 to 5 weeks for a victim to die from mustard gas poisoning, following torturous struggles to breathe through slowly –closing throats. What is sarin? What other chemical weapons are in Syria's arsenal? Might the weapons fall into the wrong hands? See below for answers to these and other questions posed by this troubling development. What Is Sarin? Sarin, also known as GB, is a man-made nerve gas not found in nature. It's one of the most deadly and fastest-acting chemical weapons known to man. Developed by a German chemist in 1938, sarin was too dangerous for its intended use as a pesticide. The Nazis developed sarin into a chemical weapon, but never used it. Iraq is thought to have deployed sarin weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq also used sarin in an attack on its own Kurdish population. It was used in the subways of Japan in a domestic terrorist attack by an apocalyptic cult. How Does Sarin Harm People? Sarin is a close relative of organophosphate bug-killers, but is far more powerful. On humans, it has much the same effect as these pesticides have on bugs. According to the CDC, sarin blocks the chemical "off switch" for glands and muscles. Muscles quickly fail, and a person who gets a lethal dose stops being able to breathe. Chemical weapons typically use aerosolized sarin, which has no odor or color. People exposed to the vapor, or who get a drop or two of liquid sarin on their skin, die within minutes to 18 hours. Sarin could also be used to poison water or food. Sarin evaporates quickly. Clothing contaminated with sarin gives off deadly fumes for about 30 minutes, posing a risk to rescue workers and medical personnel. I believe that the reason that today we have so many cases of cancer is because of the nuclear accident that happened in Russia. The then EFA didn't bother to inform the people of the consequences that might happen. He should have informed the people of stay indoors. The worst in that case was the fallout. S Dr Vella your interest is our safety and not some other excuse. If there was no danger then it should have been destroyed in Syria or else taken to the factory that was manufactured in. I hope you're not joining Nationalist ranks in betraying the interest of the Maltese. We should support the Italians in this matter and hopefully be joined by the other med Nations. They should do it in open sea like some ocean and not in a closed one. The Mediterranean is not a skip Dr. Vella and those who thinks the same like you.
Why are you now licking the USA George? Other media said that there is a petition against the processing and any dumping being carried out in the Mediterranean. Can Malta Today please find the link and publish it so that we can sign it? It must be remembered that it takes between 80 - 100 years for the Mediterraean waters to change so any contamination will stay with us for a very long time. If the operation posed no risks, why don't the USA do it next to their coast?
"the minister said that if these by-products are released in the air or diluted in water, they would pose no risk to humans or the environment" - Mr Vella may wish to note that "The Solution to Pollution is not Dilution" This is a fundamental principle of Ecology.....
The process for destroying the chemical weapons is as safe as the nuclear power plant at Fukushima.