Istanbul, Turkey (PortSEurope) April 9, 2021 – Kanal Istanbul’s project works and development plans have been completed, and tender preparations are continuing, Turkey’s Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu said. Development plans for the man-made sea level channel Kanal Istanbul have been approved, Turkey’s Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum said recently. Both ministers confirmed that the start of the project’s construction works is imminent.
Admirals arrested On the background of these upbeat statements last week came the arrest of 10 Turkish retired admirals after they signed a statement supporting the importance of the Montreux Convention designed to prevent the militarisation of the Black Sea. The admirals are suspected of conspiring against state security and constitutional order. Their reaction follows the advancing of Turkey’s project to build the 45 km (nearly 28 miles) Kanal Istanbul that will run parallel to the Turkish straits and transit through it would be regulated by Turkey. The arrested admirals are part of a group of about 100 retired navy senior officers who signed the statement. Before this, 126 retired Turkish ambassadors and senior diplomats also expressed their support for the Montreux Convention and indirectly disagreed with the Kanal Istanbul project. The Turkish straits, including the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea, connect the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas to the Black Sea states of Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia. Kanal Istanbul Located at the intersection of the Middle Corridor and the North and South Corridor, Istanbul will be the focus city of global trade, Karaismailoğlu was quoted as saying by the local media. He confirmed that tender preparations for the construction works are continuing and said again that the project will be completed in a short time. Kanal Istanbul is a project for an artificial sea-level waterway, which is planned to be built in Istanbul’s Kucukcekmece Lake-Sazlidere Dam-Durusu corridor. It is projected to have a capacity of 160 vessel transits a day – similar to the current volume of traffic through the parallel Bosphorus (Bosporus) Strait – where traffic congestion leaves ships queuing for hours and sometimes days to transit. The Montreux Convention “Montreux provided Turkey the possibility to maintain its neutrality during World War Two. We are of the opinion that there is a need to avoid any statements and actions that could cause the Montreux convention, an important treaty in terms of Turkey’s survival, to be brought up for discussion,” the statement, signed by the retired admirals and 94 former high-ranking navy personnel said. The Montreux Convention from 1936, limits the access of warships to Black Sea, considered by Russia as its strategic backyard. The Turkish strait is a natural passage, where ships have freedom of navigation. Currently, non-Black Sea state warships in the strait must be lighter than 15,000 tonnes, and no more than nine non-Black Sea state warships may pass at any one time and they can stay in the Black Sea for a maximum of 21 days. Russia is keen to limit the rights of passage of navy ships in its Black Sea territorial waters and does not want to change the status of the Montreux Convention. Maritime powers, the U.S., the UK and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), advocate strongly for freedom of navigation. Erdogan’s crazy project For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the new canal is his “crazy project”. For many observers the project depends on financial institutions “crazy enough” to fund its construction by Turkey which is in the middle of a deepening economic crisis. Erdogan is paranoid about the power that the country’s military had in the past, overthrowing governments that were not supporting the pro-Western development of the country. He also dislikes the mostly Western educated and secular old cadre Turkish diplomats and senior civil servants. Following mismanagement of the economy and several expensive megalomanic infrastructure projects, the 83 million Turks face galloping inflation, devaluation of local currency and economic stagnation. The Kanal Istanbul project is opposed by the mayor of Istanbul, environmentalists and many citizens who fear that it will also create water shortages in the megapolis. Interestingly, Kanal Istanbul is not officially discussed by the governments of the Black Sea countries or by Greece. Local media in Bulgaria and Greece write about the project mostly focusing on its enormous scope and costs. The Kanal Istanbul route would start from Kucukcekmece Lake, which is located between Istanbul’s districts of Esenyurt and Avcilar on the European side of the city and will continue north passing Istanbul’s Sazlidere Dam and reach the Black Sea from east of the Terkos Dam. The width of the canal will change from 250 metres to 1 km allowing manoeuvring space for ships. The depth of the canal is projected to be 20.75 metres. The total area of Kanal Istanbul will be 26,000 hectares. With the horizontal architecture, a population of 500,000 people is planned in the area where only 4-5 storey high buildings will be allowed. The project includes also construction of ports (a large fully multimodal container terminal in the Black Sea, close to the huge new Istanbul airport), logistic centres and artificial islands to be integrated with the canal. The artificial islands will be built using soil dredged for the canal. The Halkali-Kapikule high-speed train, TCDD (Turkish Railways) projects as well as Yenikapi-Sefakoy-Beylikduzu and Mahmutbey-Esenyurt metro lines in Istanbul and the D-100 highway crossing, Tem highway, Sazlibosna highways are also to be integrated with the canal project. Between 41,000 and 48,000 vessels pass through the Bosphorus Strait every year, making it one of the busiest maritime passages on the planet. The Bosphorus has over two times the traffic of Egypt’s Suez Canal. According to Turkish media, in the past 10 years, six out of 10 of the world’s largest projects were undertaken in Turkey. Kanal Istanbul would be the largest construction project of the decade globally. Here is a comparison of the new project with the two most famous man-made waterways in the world: Kanal Istanbul (width 250 m; length 45 km, ship beam max 77.5 m); Panama Canal (width 62.5 m; length 80 km; beam 51.2 m); Suez Canal (width 205 m; length 193 km; beam 51.2 m). President Erdogan said previously that the first initiative of his government after winning parliamentary elections (in June 2018) would be the construction of Kanal Istanbul which will reduce shipping traffic, particularly oil tanker traffic, passing through the busy Bosphorus Strait. The mega project would also include three underwater tunnels for cars. The justification behind this hugely expensive project, which will permanently alter the geography and urban spread of one of the largest cities on Earth (more than 15 million people live in Istanbul), is based firstly on trade. Supporters hope that Kanal Istanbul will relieve shipping traffic from the already congested Bosphorus, increasing capacity for shipping to and from the Black Sea. Environmental issues Approximately 1.5 billion m³ of sediment will be excavated and more than 115 million m³ of material will come from the sea and bottom screening. Environmentalists caution that because the Marmara Sea is saltier than the Black Sea, a change in the salinity once they are joined could alter sea currents and temperatures, destroying marine life as a result. The project will increase oxygen levels in the Black Sea, impacting the wildlife population and the natural ecosystem so vital for marine animals. Turkish Green party (Yeşiller ve Sol Gelecek Partisi) last year urged the government to stop the Kanal Istanbul project, saying that the Black Sea and its ecosystem is a shared natural asset, and it cannot be destroyed forever. Kanal Istanbul bears the risks of highly affecting the surrounding ecosystem including the natural equilibrium of the Black and Mediterranean seas. The environmentalists claim that if the project materializes, the balance between the cold and fresh waters of the Black Sea and the warm and salty waters that come from the Mediterranean Sea will be reversed. Adding a second tap between these seas will lead to the Black Sea being emptied twice as fast while the flow rates and capacities of the rivers that feed the Black Sea will stay the same. Another devastating effect of this project is the deforestation of one of the most important forest areas west of Istanbul, according to the Green party. This will have a major impact on the climate of the region. And not only Turkey is affected, the consequences of Kanal Istanbul will affect all the Black Sea littoral states as well as Greece. There are also concerns regarding the supply of drinking water. Some 40% of Istanbul’s drinking water comes from Thrace, the European part of Turkey, and the supply will be affected by the project and its consequences. The people of Thrace could be adversely affected by the canal, which will have a considerable impact on local agriculture and the fishing industries. Moreover, the creation of a new waterway barrier between Istanbul and Thrace will complicate rescue activities in a case of a natural disaster in Istanbul (especially earthquakes), whose western part will become an island, or in Thrace, which will be cut off from the rest of Turkey. A tender was launched in March 2020 for the planning of the reconstruction and relocation of the historic Odabaşı and Dursunköy (Odabası and Dursunkoy) bridges that are located in the area of the Kanal Istanbul project. The idea of digging such a canal is not new – it has arisen periodically since the 16th century and was most recently mentioned in the early 1990s. The subject of the transit toll for Kanal Istanbul will be a way of showing Turkish people that Erdogan is even more successful than the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who restored the Bosphorus to Turkish sovereignty through the Montreux Convention, but on condition that ships could cross without paying a transit toll. Kanal Istanbul is controversial for many reasons, and the award of contracts to allies of President Erdogan and the presence of Qatari money can only add to the debate around the validity of the project. And last but not least, no one can suggest how this mega project will be financed by a country with double-digit inflation, depreciating local currency and a chronic shortage of hard currency. According to the draft development plan, the project will be realized with a build-operate-transfer (BOT) model. Companies that won the construction tender for the canal will be granted tax exemption for all technical equipment used in construction. Their income will also be exempt from corporate tax. Companies with close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), as well as Qatari senior officials and firms, could benefit the most from the Kanal Istanbul project, Sayari, a global corporate data provider and commercial intelligence platform, based in Washington, D.C. said in April. Sayari listed Turkish conglomerates Mapa Insaat, Cengiz Holding, Kalyon Holding, Kolin Insaat and Limak Holding as the most likely beneficiaries from the project. These companies recently built Istanbul’s giant new airport and some are constructing new highways in the country. In February 2020, the zoning plan for the Kanal Istanbul project was approved. In January 2020, Turkish Ministry of Environment approved Kanal Istanbul. Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Cahit Turhan confirmed in February 2020 that the December 2019 statement of Erdogan that the tender for the construction of the canal would be launched within months in response to multiple statements of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu that the project wouldn’t fit the city and is “unnecessary”. The latest official estimate for the construction costs of Kanal Istanbul is 75 billion Turkish lira (€7.8 billion). Authorities expect that the income from the first 10 years of operation of the Canal will be 182 billion Turkish lira (€18.9 billion). The total cost of the integrated Kanal Istanbul project is expected to be $12-20 billion (€10.9-18.2 billion), which also covers the related infrastructure – two railroad crossings, two metro crossings, seven highway bridges, buildings and tunnels. Originally it was scheduled for completion in 2023, for the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, but now Turkish officials claim that construction will take at least seven years (if started this year it is to be completed by 2028). Kanal’s revenue estimates from 2019 were for $8 billion (€7.3 billion) per year, thanks in part to a service fee for transits. Today officials confidentially quote a more realistic €2 billion per year. (More information in PortSEurope: Opposition to Kanal Istanbul project leads to the arrest of 10 retired admirals) Copyright (C) PortSEurope. 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