DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Norwegian and Danish ships waiting to haul Syria's chemical arms returned to port in Cyprus, indicating a key deadline would be missed, officials said Tuesday.
Bad weather and uncertainty about security were among the reasons given for missing the Tuesday deadline to move Syria's most dangerous chemicals to a port in Latakia on Syria's Mediterranean coast for removal from the war- and violence-torn country, the BBC reported.
The deadline is the first milestone of a deal to catalog, collect and destroy Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014. The agreement was brokered by the United States and Russia after rockets filled with sarin gas were fired at three Damascus suburbs in August, killing hundreds of people. The Syrian government and rebel leaders blamed each other for the massacre.
Ahmed Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said progress of the Syrian chemical weapons disarmament has been "considerable" in an interview with Russian news network RT.
"Several categories of chemical weapons have already been destroyed and chemical weapons production facilities have been rendered unusable in a very short time," Uzumcu said. "All chemical weapons were identified and prepared for transportation to outside Syria. So now we are entering into a new phase, but so far the progress has been very significant."
Under the plan, U.S. satellites and Chinese surveillance cameras will monitor the progress of Russian armored vehicles carrying the chemical weapons from 12 storage sites in Syria to Latakia.
Danish and Norwegian cargo ships then will transport the chemicals to an Italian port, where they will be loaded aboard a U.S. vessel and taken into international waters before being destroyed.
The BBC said the Norwegian and Danish ships returned to port in Cyprus on the day they should have been escorting the chemical arms cache out of Syria after the hazardous containers did not arrive for collection in Latakia. Officials said the ships will refuel before returning to sea.
The Joint Mission of the OPCW and the United Nations acknowledged Saturday "transportation of the most critical chemical material before [Dec. 31] is unlikely."
"A number of external factors have impacted upon timelines, not least the continuing volatility in overall security conditions [in Syria], which have constrained planned movements," a statement said.