A month-long tender for the commercial destruction of hundreds of tons of industrial chemicals and toxic waste from Syria's chemical weapons program starts Thursday, with contracts likely to go to a handful of firms.
About 30 companies submitted "serious expressions of interest" for the work, the final stage of a complex task of chemical disarmament that poses security risks transporting the material in a war zone and requires technical know-how to render it safe and logistical coordination involving several countries.
The bidding procedure is due to be finalized by the end of January, officials at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Because of the need for tight security, officials want to limit the number of companies involved to just one or two. Among dozens of companies expected to bid are Veolia , a French waste management firm that has worked with the OPCW in several countries, and Finnish state-owned Ekokem, which has expressed an interest. Veolia regularly treats toxic chemical waste and operates incineration facilities around the globe.
A source at the OPCW said one or more companies will be selected in the last week of January, hopefully just in time to process the chemicals by a March 31 deadline.
The chemicals will first be transported by land across Syria in about 3,000 container drums, seen as the riskiest part of the operation because the convoys could be targeted by militants forces in contested territory.
Russia is providing container lorries and armoured trucks, water tanks and other logistical supplies. It also offered funding and security for cargo operations at the port and in Syrian territorial waters. China is supplying surveillance cameras and 10 ambulances, it said.
The toxic cargo will be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships and escorted to a port in Italy by two frigates, also supplied by the Scandinavian countries.
In Italy, the chemicals will be transferred to a U.S cargo ship, the MV Cape Ray. The 200-metre vessel is being outfitted with a chemical weapons treatment facility. The unit will process an estimated 500 metric tons of the most lethal materials , including mustard, sarin and other precursors.