JULY 2, 2014—A specially outfitted U.S. Ready Reserve Force Roll-On/Roll-Off/container ship is sailing to the Port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria, Italy, where she will be loaded with 530 tons of chemical weapons from Syria for destruction at sea.
On the U.S. Department of Transportation blog yesterday, Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen posted that the ship, the 648 ft M/V Cape Ray, “was the United States’ key contribution to the joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)/United Nations international effort to eliminate the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons, and it provides the latest reminder of the important role America’s merchant mariners play in supporting our national security as well as our economy.”
The chemical weapons are currently aboard the 13,500 dwt Danish ship M/V Ark Futura in the port. Once loaded on the Cape Ray, the chemical weapons will be destroyed at sea.
The M/V Cape Ray (T-AKR 9679) is part of the U.S. Ready Reserve Force (RRF), a fleet managed by the Maritime Administration (MarAd), to provide for rapid mass movement of Department of Defense (DOD) equipment and supplies to support U.S. Armed Forces and respond to national and humanitarian emergencies. Each vessel in the fleet is maintained to remain in a state of readiness so that a full activation can be achieved quickly and the ship certified as mission ready. In nearly every case, MarAd completes RRF vessel activation in five days or less.
Wrote the Maritime Administrator: “This level of readiness was the reason the Cape Ray, the assigned ship manager, Keystone Shipping Services, Inc., and the all-volunteer U.S. Merchant Marine crew were able to prepare for this historic mission in a very short time.
“Converting a sealift vessel into an OPCW-verified chemical weapons destruction facility was no easy task, given the scope of the mission, the number of government agencies and commercial companies involved, and the extensive vessel modifications required. Without question, this was a first of its kind project for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“The unique mission required the team to make significant modifications, including installation of additional berthing, office, and messing spaces; a medical unit; reverse osmosis water purification units; a commercial-grade helicopter landing deck for emergencies; an environmental enclosure with carbon filtration; separate filtered air handling systems; and two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems to neutralize and convert chemical agent materials into liquid compounds not usable as weapons. During this activation stage, maritime labor from Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and Seafarers International Union rapidly assembled a top-notch crew of 36 U.S. civilian mariners who now operate the vessel and maintain the necessary onboard support–including berthing and food–to allow the military, inspectors, technical experts, and personnel from the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center to perform their vital mission.
Once modifications were completed, extensive in-port and at-sea testing were conducted. A diverse team from more than 20 different organizations worked tirelessly to test and improve the vessel’s capabilities to ensure that chemical weapons could be handled and neutralized safely. Measures were also put in place to ensure there would be no impact on the environment or harmful effects on human life when the M/V Cape Ray returns stateside.”