Autumn 1995 (3.3)
of Oil Transported through the Bosphorus
by Marcus Hopkins
Photos: Hümiyet News, Turkey
Since the beginning of discussions concerning the export of Azerbaijan's oil to international markets, Turkish officials have been persistent in their claims that the Bosphorus Straits is simply too narrow to handle the number of tankers necessary to export the volume of crude oil annually. They insist that the potential for environmental disaster is too high. However, in regard to the issue of "early oil" from Azerbaijan which is currently under discussion, Turkey is willing, if necessary, to let to facilitate passage. The volume of oil that must be transported to international markets between "early oil" and "regular production" is markedly different. "Early oil" is estimated at 4 million tons per annum and "regular production" from the Foreign Consortium (Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli fields) alone is estimated to be 35 to 40 million tons and this doesn't include some of the other promising fields in Azerbaijan or from Kazakhstan or any of the other countries bordering the Caspian Sea.
But according to Turkish authorities, the Bosphorus Straits has physical limitations that must be respected and guarded if environmental damage and disasters are to be avoided. The Bosphorus separates Asiatic Turkey from European Turkey and links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara leading out to the Mediterranean. The Straits is 19 miles (30 km) long, with a maximum width of 2.3 miles (3.7 km.) at the northern entrance and a minimum width of 2,450 ft. (750 meters). Its depth varies from 120 to 408 ft. in midstream.
An estimated 4,000 ships currently pass through the Straits in any given month, including three tankers daily, each carrying 25,000 tons of oil, according to Turkish Straits officials. In 1993, there were 25 shipping accidents recorded in the Bosphorus.
During the first half of 1994, ten accidents occurred, the most tragic of them when two Cypriot-flagged crude oil carriers, the "Nasia" and the "Sea Broker", collided in March. A raging fire broke out. Fortunately, the winds were blowing away from the shore or the flames could have devastated the populated area. An estimated 14,000 barrels of crude oil were spilled into the channel, and 27 people lost their lives. All traffic in the Straits was blocked for six days.
Since then, some regulations have been put in place to minimize the possibility of accidents. The fact that only two occurred during the last half of 1994 indicates that the policy is helpful. But for the confined, narrow water passage, even one accident is too much.
The new policy requires that large vessels intending to pass through the Straits must provide Turkish authorities with information about the administration and cargo of the vessel. All nuclear-powered vessels or those carrying nuclear cargo or waste must seek special permission. Vessels longer than 200 meters are allowed only to pass during the daytime, those exceeding 300 meters must be pulled by a tugboat and must pass alone, thereby, requiring that the waterway be closed either one-way or in both directions depending on the vessel. The resultant delays for the waiting traffic extend on average, two and a half hours.
Difficulties exist, according to Straits officials, in that several countries, mainly Russia, Dubai, Greece and Greek Cyprus have declared that they do not accept the new regulations-claiming that the new policy is in violation of the Montreux Convention which governs traffic through the Straits; nonetheless, they have complied. But Turkish authorities worry if they would be deceived about the ships' administration or cargo, their control would be much less effective and the environmental risk much greater. This is one of the primary reasons that Turkey is pushing for the crude to be conveyed via pipeline across land when Azerbaijan's major oil is directed to the international market.
From Azerbaijan International (3.3) Autumn 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.