The MV Cape Ray steamed out of the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro after a 12-hour operation to transfer the chemicals from a Danish ship, the Ark Futura.
It was heading into the open sea where it will neutralize the chemicals — including mustard gas and the raw materials for sarin nerve gas — with special machinery outfitted in its cargo hold.
Gioia Taurio is one of the most dangerous port towns in all of southern Italy. This is primarily because the port is a Ndrangheta stronghold; more than 80 percent of Europe’s cocaine is handled by the Mafia of Calabria, and much of it enters the continent through this badly patrolled port.
As one Italian newspaper noted: "It is hard to imagine that the local crime bosses would see any reason to interfere with the operation or try to exploit it, but, then again, the ‘Ndrangheta is one of the most ruthless and one of the more imaginative crime syndicates around."
Gioia Tauro is said to be "a mass of illegally constructed buildings, some cobbled together from shipping containers," and its city council "has been dissolved a half-dozen times for corruption and mafia infiltration."
More people were murdered in that port city, population 17,000-plus people, than in New York City. In the 1970s, more than 1,000 were killed in one year alone when the so-called First ‘Ndrangheta War was fought.
In February 2014, seven people, some affiliated with the Bonanno and Gambino crime families, were arrested in New York and 17 in Gioia Tauro in a sting operation that stopped an international cocaine ring.
Gioia Tauro is also a hub for the illegal arms trade.
If the officials involved with the chemical weapons shipment were worried about the criminal surroundings, they never showed it. According to Pentagon press secretary Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, there was no danger that the chemical weapons could spill into the sea. “Neutralization will be conducted in a safe and environmentally sound manner,” Kirby said in a statement. “Nothing from this operation will be released into the environment.” Apparently potential threats posed by Ndrangheta clans were not even on the Pentagon's collective mind.
No comment was ever offered by the mayor of Gioia Tauro.
He recently was arrested.