WASHINGTON - The Pentagon says the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons on board the U.S. cargo vessel MV Cape Ray began Monday.
Army Col. Steve Warren says it will take about 60 days, depending on the weather and sea conditions, to destroy the approximately 600 metric tons of material loaded onto the ship.
The Cape Ray left the Italian port of Gioia Tauro last Wednesday and is in international waters. The chemicals, including mustard gas and the raw materials for sarin nerve gas, are being put through special Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems in the cargo hold to neutralize them. Last month Syria handed over to Western powers the 1,300 tons of chemical weapons it acknowledged possessing, completing a deal reached last fall under threat of U.S. airstrikes amidst the country's ongoing civil war.
The resulting waste will be taken to dumps equipped to handle hazardous materials. U.S. officials say no vapor or water runoff will be released into the atmosphere or the sea.
Meanwhile, the head of the international effort to rid Syria of its chemical weapons says the next step in the process is investigating possible discrepancies in Syria's declaration of its stockpile.
Sigrid Kaag briefed the U.N. Security Council by videoconference Monday - less than a week after the last of hundreds of tons of Syrian chemical weapons were loaded onto a U.S. cargo ship for destruction at sea.
Western diplomats said Kaag, head of the joint U.N.-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission, told them that technical experts from the OPCW were talking to Syria about discrepancies between the weapons the country declared and what evidence on the ground has shown.
The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the closed briefing publicly.
In June, OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu was careful to say that his organization only removed the country's declared stockpile.
"We cannot say Syria doesn't possess chemical weapons any more," Uzumcu said, according to Reuters.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told CBS News in May that there was also concern the Syrians had not completely destroyed their capability to produce new chemical weapons.
The international community, shocked by a chemical attack last August that killed hundreds near Damascus, had aimed to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals by June 30. The August attack was blamed on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which denied involvement.
Under an agreement brokered by the United States and Russia to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, the government was responsible for getting the most dangerous chemicals to the port for removal by the OPCW, and destroying the rest inside the country. Syria missed several deadlines, including a final April 27 deadline to get all dangerous chemical out of the country.