Turkey intends to improve navigation safety of Turkish straits

Jan 27, 1999 01:00 AM

A multi-million dollar command structure including night vision facilities and strictly delineated sea lanes is to improve shipping safety across the overcrowded waters of the Turkish straits.

Turkey is to reissue over the next few weeks a $ 40 mm tender for a state of-the-art radar control system intended to improve navigation safety along the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits and the Sea of Marmara linking the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.
The project vessel traffic management and information structure is intended to incorporate two control headquarters aided by 13 unmanned radar stations as well as a wireless communications network and sea current detectors, meteorological observation platforms and a high-speed computer command structure in charge of all such sub-systems.

Many industries, including shipping, energy, insurance, trade and finance as well as marine electronics and construction, will be affected by the project. It is part of global preparations for the forthcoming Caspian hydrocarbon bonanza which may well redraw the transport and energy maps of Eurasia in for next century.
The tender was originally issued last year amid mounting international controversy over shipping safety standards affected by increasing hydrocarbon exports across the Turkish straits from the Caspian oil fields to the energy-hungry markets of western Europe.
Bids for building the navigation control system were submitted by the American company Lockheed Martin, German Atlas Electronics and Turkish investor partner, Simkon.
Disappointed by the low interest attracted by the tender, Turkey has now annulled it to be reissued next month.

The waterways handle some 60 mm tonnes of crude oil and petroleum products a year. That volume of traffic may well increase substantially when the Caspian oil and gas fields of the former Soviet Central Asia come on stream early next century.
Much of the westbound Black Sea oil traffic will pass through the Turkish straits, the world's busiest and mostdangerous waterway, affected by fierce and unpredictable currents. Crossing from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, the ships must pass right through the centre of Istanbul, posing an incalculable threat to the city's 9 mm residents.
The Bosporus is only 700 m wide at its narrowest point. Its waters are shared simultaneously by ships travelling in both directions, in addition to ferries carrying 1mm passengers a day across the water.

There is an unacceptable average of 17 accidents a year, Turkey told. Some 6,500 oil tankers and an additional 50,000 other vessels pass through the straits annually.
About 15 % of them carry hazardous cargo. The present volume of traffic may well increase by half when the Caspian production fields of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan begin full production by 2010.
Turkey cannot prevent the international use of the straits because navigation through both the Bosporus and Dardanelles is unrestricted under the 1936 Montreaux convention which provides safe passage for commercial traffic at all times except during the war.
But the number of accidents in the straits has declined since the introduction of tough new navigation rules after a March 1994 disaster in the Bosporus when two vessels collided, 29 crew lost their lives and 20,000 tonnes of oil was spilled as oil fires raged on the water for four days.
Turkey has since introduced strictly delineated sea passages along the straits and compelled the big ships to employ local pilots on board. Russia and Bulgaria claim that this has unreasonably slowed down the traffic and reduced the capacity of the waterways.

Turkey has announced plans to sign a convention defining the liability of shipowners to compensate the victims of oil pollution and to meet the cost of any ensuing spillage operations.
The move is just one of many in a mounting confrontation with Russia over Black Sea shipping revenues generated by lucrative oil exports from the Caspian to western Europe.
A Turkish foreign ministry official here has announced: "Our government has begun the necessary procedures to joining the United Nations Civil Liability Convention." The instrument, established by the London-based International Maritime Organisation in 1969 and amended by it in 1992, defines the liability of shipowners in the case of spillage and subsequent clean-up operations.

Russia wants the bulk of the Caspian produce to be piped to its own Black Sea port of Novorossiysk and transported by tankers through the Turkish straits to the Mediterranean and the world markets.
Moscow is placing enormous economic as well as diplomatic pressure on its oil-rich Caspian partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States to support the scheme and secure for Russia the bulk of the transit royalties.
Turkey reckons this would double the volume of traffic now passing through the Bosporus, "clearly beyond the capacity of the straits", according to Ismail Soysal of the Turkish Straits Voluntary Watch Group.

Source: Lloyd's list
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