As a member of the European Parliament, I have recently put my name to a formal question in the European Parliament urging the European Commission to ensure that the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons does not take place in the Mediterranean.

I took this initiative together with a number of my European colleagues as the transfer of the weapons from a Danish ship to a specialised American processing vessel was being planned off the port of Gioia Tauro in the south of Italy.

I strongly believe that chemical weapons should not be transferred and processed in a closed sea like the Mediterranean.

With the recent adoption by Germany, the plan for the disposal of Syrian chemical weapons was approved and the first stage began with the transfer of the first load from the Syrian port of Latakia on January 7.

The plan provided for four stages. Firstly, the transport of the toxic substances to the port of Latakia from 12 Syrian production sites, under the control of Russian personnel in US containers.

Secondly, the storage of the substances on Danish and Norwegian cargo boats, with logistical support from the Americans and with Russia responsible for security.

This is followed by transport to an Italian port by Danish and Norwegian vessels and then the transfer of the hazardous chemical agents to a US military vessel for the removal by hydrolysis of the chemical substances. Subsequently, the material is to be dumped by the cargo vessel in international waters, in the centre of the Ionian Sea, between Crete, Libya, Sicily and Malta.

Together with my European colleagues, I asked the European Commission what criteria and assessments have been used to select the disposal site and which other sites, apart from the Mediterranean Sea, have been considered as possible candidates for the disposal.

We also referred to the disastrous impact the operation could have on the entire ecosystem of the seas and territorial waters, considering that the Mediterranean is a closed sea, even though one would still be in international waters.

In the letter, we asked whether it was possible to change the choice of the decommissioning site to preserve not only the ecosystem itself but also the health of all European citizens, in the area of the Mediterranean and elsewhere, in view of the possible serious consequences of the decision.

I am satisfied that my action in the European Parliament was positively received by the media and the public at large. I thank Żminijietna - Voice of the Left, which applauded the stand I took on this issue.

The Mediterranean should not be subjected to any toxic waste dumping or other environmental damage

Following this action, I also participated in another initiative in the European Parliament in which a number of MEPs, including myself, signed an appeal in the form of a letter to the prime ministers of Greece and Italy, requesting the protection of the Mediterranean basin.

In the letter, we re-emphasised the decision of the Organization for theProhibition of Chemical Weapons todispose of the Syrian toxic agents by mid-2014. While we applauded this significant milestone in the Syrian peace process, we believe that special attention needs to be given to the possible environmental implications.

We noted that the hydrolysis method that is being employed to destroy the chemical weapons will result in 1.5million gallons of toxic effluent, possibly to be disposed of in an unnamed location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, directly affecting Italy, Greece and Malta.

In the appeal, we stated that residents of the entire area are extremely concerned and, to prevent a potential environmental and social catastrophe, we urged both prime ministers to use their current and upcoming presidencies of the European Union to make this a very prominent issue and monitor its progress.

We asked them to act now on behalf of the European Union and to urge the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as well as the United Nations to keep a close eye on this issue and ensure that the Mediterranean will not be subjected to any toxic waste dumping or other environmental damage.

Joseph Cuschieri is a Labour MEP.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us