Archipelagos, Institute of Marine Conservation, is currently in communication with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with respect to the planned at-sea destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, which is due to take place in the waters found between Crete and Sicily. We will be attending an inspection of the ship MV Cape Ray next week, which at this moment is at the port of Rota, in Spain.
There is an ever-growing risk to our seas by the possibility of this destruction process. Archipelagos Institute aims to break the silence surrounding this issue, and over the last months has been carrying out targeted movements to highlight the matter. Our overall aims are both to uncover the true extent of the consequences that this large and unprecedented project will lead to, and to exert great pressure on the appropriate bodies to agree on a safe and effective alternative method of destruction, in land-based facilities, allowing for the control of any potential risks and pollution caused (both accidental or deliberate).
The mobilisation of the Cretan society (including citizens, authorities and academics) acts as an important lever of pressure in the Mediterranean. Thanks to the valuable assistance of news agencies in both Athens and France, Archipelagos’ published press releases raised awareness on this subject in Greek and international press.
Archipelagos, together with institutes and scientists from all over Europe, have written a joint statement appealing to the UN, the OPCW and the EU, which has been signed by many experts and institutions from 14 different countries and has been translated into 7 languages, including Arabic and Hebrew, to allow its message to spread throughout the Mediterranean, highlighting the possible dangers and threats, as well as the chance of it setting a dangerous precedent.
Also, at the same time, Archipelagos held meetings in Brussels with representatives of the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and MEPs, where we revealed that almost half of the process of destruction will be funded by the EU, that is to say, by European taxpayers. Therefore, European authorities should already have taken all the necessary measures to ensure the health of their seas and citizens.
After this mobilisation, the OPCW, realising that Mediterranean societies had been informed of the decision and were reacting to it, began communicating with Archipelagos, the leading organisation of this movement, aiming to illustrate the environmental safety of this process.
Archipelagos submitted to the OPCW several questions regarding the area chosen for the destruction, the choice of ship, and reasons for the absence of skilled observers from Mediterranean countries, as well as many more.
• We do not believe that the choice of location has been made arbitrarily. The marine area called the “Ionian Abyssal Plain” is over 4,000 metres deep, and in the past, has been a site of illegal dumping of toxic waste by the Italian mafia, who collaborated with European chemical industries, wanting to cheaply rid themselves of their toxic waste. Therefore in this region, if one more toxic contamination occurs, it will be difficult to prove or to distinguish from previous events.
• We find it suspicious that there are no Mediterranean countries taking part in the project. These countries will be those most affected by possible accidental pollution and will face huge environmental and socio-economic consequences.
• In addition, the age and type of vessel chosen for this process seems risky. This ship, the MV Cape Ray, a conventional cargo ship (type POPC), is 37 years old and the U.S. Navy has transformed it for it to receive hydrolysis equipment. It is worth noting that commercial shipping vessels of this type are usually withdrawn after twenty years or so of use because of the risk involved in securing their cargo. Therefore, this raises a lot of questions about why, from the large fleet belonging to the U.S. Navy, this ship has been chosen for such a risky venture.
• An equally important question is the reason for which the OPCW has not requested that the chemical (mostly European) industry assume responsibility for the production and marketing of these dangerous chemical weapons, which violates international legislation.
These questions and many others cause us great concern about the destruction process, which itself is experimental, as it is the first time that this particular method, with such a high quantity of chemical weapons, will take place at sea.
In response to the actions of Archipelagos, the OPCW has called us to participate in a teleconference in two weeks, where we expect to have these questions answered by their experts. At the same time, a specialized scientist associate of Archipelagos will travel next Thursday 10/4 following an invitation of the Organisation to a site visit of MV Cape Ray, now in the port of Rota, Spain. There will be further information and demonstrations of equipment and methodology of the destruction of these chemical weapons by specialists from the OPCW and the U.S. Navy.
This response from the OPCW to exert pressure with the help of civil society and specialized scientists is a very positive step. However, we must emphasise that the overall goal remains unchanged: We cannot allow the destruction process of chemical weapons to occur in this way. It is important that we all remain vigilant and closely follow the next steps, in order to prevent a potential environmental disaster that would be irreversible.
Unfortunately, the response of the current Greek government did not surprise us and we believe that no one expects a substantial interference on their behalf. But the question that lingers in the minds of citizens not only in Greece but also in other Mediterranean countries concerns the controversial role of some environmental NGOs. Their role unfortunately is none other than to intercept the inherent reaction of local communities, often downplaying issues – as in this case – with passive responses and reassurances. Archipelagos, considering the deeper implications of this matter, will answer the above point in its next press release.
We will be informing you shortly with respect to further developments.
For Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation
Thodoris Tsimpidis – Director
Anastasia Miliou – Scientific Director