Cleaning up an oil spill in the Kilyos area of Istanbul. Photo via Hürriyet.
From my window, I can inevitably see -- at least when it's not snowing out -- a flotilla of cargo ships waiting their turn to pass through the Bosphorus Strait as they make their way from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. This week, one of the approximately 10,000 such vessels that traverse the famous continent-splitting waterway each year ran aground in bad weather and broke in half, spilling 96 tons of fuel oil and 25 tons of diesel oil into the area's bays and out to sea.On Tuesday, the Moldovan cargo ship the Orçun C crashed near Kilyos, a popular beach-resort area of Istanbul at the Black Sea entrance to the Bosphorus. As cleanup crews began their work, local residents expressed concerns about the lack of effective oversight governing shipping on the strait.
"Even a simple fisherman knows the weather conditions around here," Sinan Kayaci, a restaurant owner and fisherman, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "How is it that a ship crew does not know and does not take the appropriate precautions?"
9,000 Ships with Dangerous Cargo
A few days before the accident, the Turkish Coast Guard had held a meeting on maritime safety on the Bosphorus, the paper reported:
According to [the Coast Guard's] report, transiting ships carried a total of 101 million tons of petrol in 2001 alone. "Turkey is among the top 10 countries for shipping accidents. In the last 50 years, there were 500 ship accidents that took place in the Bosphorus," its report said.
"Between 2004 and 2008, the number of ships that passed through the Bosphorus reached 49,000," Coast Guard director Salih Orakçı said, adding that nearly 9,000 of them carry dangerous cargo.
Though the environmental impact of the Kilyos spill remains to be assessed, the threat posed by such a large volume of traffic on often choppy, crowded waters seems clear. Stories about ships running aground -- even crashing into waterside homes -- are common enough here that they generally get little more than a mention around the dinner table or newsroom. A muddle of laws governing international shipping on the strait adds to the problem.
Muddled Maritime Laws
Though ships are forbidden by Turkish national law from entering the Bosphorus in stormy weather, they can ask for a captain from the Turkish Maritime Organization to guide them through in situations of diminished visibility. The 1936 Montreux Convention regulating international shipping in the straits, however, does not require such assistance, and outweighs local legislation. Most of the ships on the strait are from Malta, Russia, Ukraine, and Panama and thus can take advantage of the international convention. According the U.K. publication The First Post, many even traverse the tricky waterway without a pilot at all.
"This area is important, both ecologically and historically," said Banu Dökmecibaşı, a campaign manager for Greenpeace Mediterranean. "In places like this, where the maritime traffic is heavy, the laws should be reconsidered."
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