A comprehensive maritime navigation system was launched Thursday in Turkey's western province of Izmir to improve the efficiency of marine traffic, protect the environment and reduce accidents and delays.
The inauguration ceremony for the launch of the Regional Vessel Traffic Services System (RVTSS) in the Bayraklı district of the Aegean port city was also attended by Parliament Speaker Binali Yıldırım and Transport and Infrastructure Minister Cahit Turhan.
In his speech, Yıldırım, who served as the transport, maritime affairs and communications minister between 2002 and 2016, pointed to the importance of safety in maritime traffic.
"[Turkey's] first project for safety at sea was the vessel monitoring system in the [Bosporus and Dardanelles] straits, which was active when we took over in 2003. Based on later developments, we decided to extend it to our 7,780-kilometer-long coastline," Yıldırım said.
Stressing that Turkey's maritime borders are three times longer than its land borders and the Turkish nation is a seafaring one, Yıldırım said that the center will no doubt increase the safety of lives and property at seas.
Minister Turhan said the Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS), which will also have two other RVTSS stations in the northwestern province of Izmit and southern Mersin province, will allow Turkey to monitor commercial shipping on a 24/7 basis.
The system, developed by Italy-based aerospace and defense contractor Leonardo, also features a Vessel Traffic Management Center (VTMC) in Ankara, capable of providing an integrated and comprehensive picture of sea traffic on a single site.
Regional stations allow improved control of marine traffic in busy areas like the Gulf of Izmir and the Gulf of Izmit, where both freight and passenger ships operate. The station in Izmit, Turkey's industrial and commercial heartland, was launched in Nov. 2016.
Turhan noted that the system in Izmir includes 12 unmanned stations and a center featuring high technology.
"The system covers the coastline of Izmir, Balıkesir and Çanakkale provinces up to an area right to the middle of the Aegean Sea. It serves seven different port directorates, traffic monitoring stations and Aliağa, one of Turkey's most important industrial sites," Turhan said. Aliağa district has two large refineries and a couple of liquefied natural gas and oil terminals, mainly served by ships, in addition to a dozen iron and steel factories, shipyards and shipbreaking facilities.
"We would not even want to think what sort of material and non-pecuniary damages a marine accident in such a strategic region would cause. The system in Izmir works in an integrated fashion with systems in other regions. We now have the means and ability to monitor the whole of our coastline more effectively," Turhan added.
"The Turkish Straits Vessel Traffic Services System has been active for the last 15 years now. If we consider that approximately 43,000 ships sail through that strategic area annually, including 10,000 vessels carrying dangerous cargo, then we can understand the importance of this service better," Turhan said, adding that the number of ships using Turkish waters was constantly increasing.
Turhan said sea transport was three times more economical compared to railway transport, seven times compared to road transportation and 21 times compared to air traffic.
The minister said that the maritime sector was long forsaken by authorities, but this trend is now being reversed with policies such as a drive to remove Turkish ships from blacklists or tax-free fuel for vessels.
As a result, the Turkish merchant fleet has grown more than 75 percent compared to other countries in the world, Turhan said, with the number of shipyards reaching 78. He said that a project is underway to produce at least 70 percent of vessels with domestic input by 2023.
Speaking at a panel in the Mediterranean Dialogues 2018 event in the Italian capital Rome, Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo also mentioned the launch of the Izmir station and the VTMS system. Profumo also stressed the need for developing such systems on wider areas – such as the entire Mediterranean – and establishing multi-national and public-private partnered bodies to manage them, according to his remarks carried by the Italian ANSA news agency.