By Judy Clark
HOUSTON, Nov. 19 -- For years, Turkey has expressed concerns about the increasing tanker traffic passing through its Bosporus and Dardanelles straits between the Black Sea and the Aegean Seaand in the Sea of Marmara between the two straits. Now, Turkey has initiated a policy banning supertanker traffic through the straits and severely restricting the passage of smaller tankers carrying dangerous cargo, including chemicals, LPG, LNG, and explosives.
The Caspian News Agency reported that Turkey has prevented supertankers from Russia and Kazakhstan from exporting oil through the straits for the past month, citing its new regulations limiting tankers to 200 m in length to pass through the narrow, 30 km long Bosporus and to 250 m in length for the Dardanelles.
Turkey's new regulations also prohibit loaded oil tankers from passing through the straits at night and in other instances when visibility is obscured.
Regulations apply to vessels carrying cargo classified by the international agreements as dangerous, including petroleum, its derivatives, and petroleum products
Fear for the safety of Istanbul's 10 million residents at the southern mouth of the Bosporus and for Turkish citizens living and working along all three waterways was the impetus for the action. Turkey has been concerned about safety in the "critical straits" for years.
Ten years ago, for example, it established a traffic separation program, which the International Maritime Organization in London approved, saying Turkey had the right to suspend traffic in one or both directions whenever a ship larger than 150 m passed through.
And in 1998, the Turkish State Management and Information System project office was charged with developing a monitoring and control system for the straits. It was designed to have eight radar sites in the Bosporus and five in the Dardanelles fitted with TV cameras, night vision cameras, radar beacons, meteorological equipment, direction finders, and current measuring devices.
"The Montreux convention says that in peacetime. . .merchant ships have the right of free passage through the straits," commented retired Admiral Guven Erkays, who presided over the agency at the time, ". . .but we say that 'free passage' should be 'safe free passage.'"
At the time, only 60% of tankersregardless of sizetook on pilots, which were mandatory only for those ships making port calls in Turkey.
Since Oct. 3, international tanker owners have experienced substantial delays in transiting the Turkish straits, said Kristian R Fuglesang of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko). As many as "3 ½ delays each way have not been uncommon," he said, with the cost of such delays sometimes running as much as $60,000.
"Some of the main problems are that night sailings are not permitted, there is one hour's gap between transiting vessels in both direction, there is only one convoy daily transiting northbound and one southbound, and there is no set time as to when the northbound or southbound convoys will start or how many vessels will be included in each," Fuglesang said.
By comparison, he said, in the Suez Canal there are set times for both northbound and southbound, so a ship's master can reach the starting point at a certain time and know that the ship will be included in the convoy.
"Intertanko has made representations to the Turkish Maritime authorities and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs urging an immediate postponement of the implementation as well as a revision of the rules," Fuglesang said. "Intertanko is keen to work with the Turkish authorities to find practical and internationally acceptable solutions to any safety problems that may exist in relation to tankers transiting the straits."
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