From Bayram ÖZTÜRK,

Sir, I was deeply disappointed to read “Bosporus tanker jam threatens shortage of oil” (January 12) written by Carola Hoyos and Javier Blas. Here I present my concern over this issue as a resident of the Bosporus. Turkey is not trying to maintain its geopolitical importance by blocking the traffic in the Straits, but to take a precautionary approach for the security and environment of the Straits.

Briefly, I want to give you some of the important peculiarities of the Istanbul and Canakkale Straits (by the way, they are not the’ Bosporus and Dardanelles’ Straits, to be correct). These waterways, together with the Marmara Sea, connect the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The health of this system is vital for the protection of the marine biodiversity of the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. Particularly for the Black Sea, the Straits are the only water exchange passage with other water mass. However, due to various environmental problems, 52 marine species in the Straits are severely threatened. One of the most serious problems is oil spill, related to ship traffic, because the Istanbul Strait is one of the world’s busiest waterways: 50,000 ships passed in 2000, 5 % of which were supertankers more than 200 m in length with a potential carrying capacity of 100 million tons of crude oil. Accidents of shipping in the straits are examined under four categories: collision, grounding, fire and stranding. Each of them has a direct effect on the marine ecosystem.

Collision is the dominant type of accidents. It is caused by poor visibility and strong current, which result in navigation failure. One of the largest collisions occurred in 1979 between a Greek cargo ship Evriyali (10,000 tdwt) and a Romanian tanker Independenta (165,000 tdwt) which carried 94,000 tons of Libyan crude oil. In 1994, the marine environment was seriously affected by the Nassia tanker accident which resulted in the discharge of 20,000 tons of oil into the Black Sea, Istanbul Strait and Marmara Sea. The most recent disaster was caused by a Russian river ship, Volganeft 248, that split in two in bad weather close to Istanbul in December 1999. Some 2,000 tons of oil were spilt into the sea. During these accidents, 75 people were dead. I think we have had enough lessons of tanker accidents here.

Needless to say, ecological catastrophes will continue for many years after these accidents. There will be, of course, compensation with money. Fine, but you cannot restore nature with money. So why not taking precautionary measures?
The problem is the Istanbul Strait is too narrow. Its narrowest point is only 740 m, less than 1 km. As the captains interviewed in the article said, the route is difficult and dangerous due to natural handicaps, such as strong currents, whirlpools, dense and sudden fog, mostly in spring and winter. There are also many small commuting boats and fishing boats, although they have very few accidents compared to large vessels. This is why all ships are recommended to have pilots on board through the Istanbul Strait. Turkish vessels are obliged to do so, while most foreign vessels do not take them because of the fee. In bad weather, it is very reasonable to block the strait for shipping. If only oil companies can change such weather….

Vessel Traffic System has been operating since last year in the Straits. It cost about 10 million USD, paid by the tax of Turkish citizens, not by oil companies or tanker owners. This shows how important to regulate ship traffic in the straits and to secure safe navigation.
In recent years, an increase in number and size of ships passing through the Straits, together with an increase in dangerous cargo, threaten the over-10-million people in Istanbul. This city is also a world heritage with 3,000 years of history, as well as a city of industry and business. . Would you accept every day at least ten huge oil tankers to pass through the canals of Amsterdam or the Seine in Paris? Simply, we don’t feel secure when this traffic continues to grow until the straits become like a water highway. Besides, the Istanbul Strait has been a very rich fishing ground traditionally, thus provides us with the source of protein. Security of the people and clean environment are our primary concerns, not oil industry. We are thrilled when a 200m-long fully-loaded tanker passes through the strait when the sea is not very calm. I do believe that oil companies as well do not want big catastrophes in the Istanbul Strait. If two tankers collide, City of Istanbul may be on fire: all historical palaces, museums and mosques will be destroyed. Isn’t it a crime for the humanity?

These straits are, no doubt, important for all Black Sea and Mediterranean nations. They should be open to every ship according to Montreax Convention. However, in case of a serious accident, it is very likely that the Istanbul Strait is closed for several days or even weeks. Imagine what a big loss oil companies can make.

Growing concern over terrorism is widely shared by the international community. I strongly believe that oil companies should obey all the rules of security. After 9/11, new security measures are implemented all over the world, not only in the Straits.

Finally, for us living here, the Istanbul Strait is a place for refreshment, for drinking Turkish coffee, for fishing – not a dangerous oil tanker route. I hope your columnists try to understand all these feelings. Mediterranean refiners should blame on the war in Iraq (and whoever started it), not the security and environmental problems in the Istanbul and Canakkale Straits.


Bayram ÖZTÜRK, Prof. Strategic Res. Center İstanbul University & Director of Turkish Marine Research Foundation ,İstanbul.Turkey