Istanbul, Turkey (PortSEurope) April 5, 2021 – Ten Turkish retired admirals were detained 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 advance of Turkey’s project to build a 45 km (nearly 28 miles) Kanal Istanbul that
will run parallel to the Turkish straits and with transit regulated by Turkey. 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 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 days to transit. “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. The vessles 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. 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. 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 megalopolis. 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 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). Approximately 7 km of the canal route will be located within the boundaries of Küçükçekmece, some 3.1 km within the boundaries of Avcılar, approximately 6.5 km within the borders of Başakşehir and the remaining 28.6 km will be within the borders of Arnavutköy District. 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 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. 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) 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. It claims that if the project materializes, the balance will be reversed between the cold and fresh waters of the Black Sea and the warm and salty waters that come from the Mediterranean Sea. Adding a second tap between these seas will lead to the Black Sea being emptied twice as fast with two taps while the flow rates and capacities of the rivers that feed the Black Sea 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. Between 1953 and 2003, 461 accidents occurred in the Bosphorus. The deadliest was when a Romanian tanker and a Greek freighter collided and exploded in November 1979, killing 42 crew members aboard the tanker. The last major accident in the strait was in 2003 when a Georgian-flagged vessel ran aground, resulting in a spill of 480 tons of oil. 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. The legislative work for the implementation of Kanal (Channel, Canal) Istanbul project, linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara (and the Mediterranean Sea), north and south of Istanbul, has been completed by Turkey’s Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, local media reported in August 2020. According to the draft document (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 December 2018, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, mother of Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, purchased 4.4 hectares (10.8 acres) of land along the route of the future Kanal Istanbul. According to Turkish media reports, the purchase was made via a company established in Turkey, Triple M Real Estate Tourism and Trade Co., in which Munira bint Nasser, wife of Qatar’s former deputy prime minister Abdullah bin Hamad al Attiyah, has a 31.82% share in Triple M. Qatari media boss and the head of the Qatar-based Alnoor Holdings Abdullah bin Ahmed al Hashimi was quoted as saying in January: “We will continue to buy land around Kanal Istanbul. We will continue to support the Turkish economy”. It is also reported that Turkey’s former Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, also purchased 3.2 acres of land along the route of the canal. In February 2020, the zoning plan for the Kanal Istanbul project was approved, paving the way for the start of its construction, Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Cahit Turhan said. 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”. “A number of international companies and credit agencies have expressed interest in Kanal Istanbul. Firms from Russia, China, the Netherlands and Belgium are interested in the project,” Turhan said. “We will protect the Istanbul Strait (Bosphorus) from accidents and dangerous shipments. We will not only keep the Istanbul Strait open to sea traffic, but provide an alternative to it”. 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. Revenue estimates from 2019 were for $8 billion (€7.3 billion) per year from Kanal Istanbul, thanks in part to a service fee for transits. Again, this figure is now close to a more realistic €2 billion per year. Copyright (C) PortSEurope. All Rights Reserved. 2021.