Three-quarters of our world is covered with water. This abundance of water offers the opportunity to benefit from it in various ways. Throughout history, human beings have utilized these benefits. For instance, we have been able to harness the power of water to produced clean energy, which is almost a cure for today's global problem of climate change.
We have also obtained nourishment from the water via fishing, and have used water for hygiene purposes. Moreover, the use of water met the greatest need in agricultural production so that the transition from the hunter-gatherer culture to agrarian society took place accordingly. In addition, the power of water was used for transportation from the earliest days when we made rafts from materials such as logs.
With the development of navigation systems over time, waterway transportation increased in step. So much so that artificial waterways, namely canals, were built in order to maintain waterway transportation. While there are canals connecting the seas such as Panama and Suez with the shortest route, the Grand Canal in China, which dates back several millennia, connects the Yellow and Yangtze rivers.
The lion's share of international commercial transportation carried out today is on waterways. According to the data of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the volume of maritime trade has increased fortyfold over the past century. It continues to grow at an average of 4% annually. In fact, according to the World Maritime Chamber, 80-90% of world trade is carried out by sea. From a financial point of view, 60-70% of global trade, worth $30 trillion annually, is carried out over the sea.
According to UNCTAD statistics, while the amount of cargo transposed by water was 3.5 billion metric tons in the early 1980s, today this value has more than tripled to reach 11 billion tons. Approximately 30% of these cargoes consist of dangerous goods (LNG + chemicals, etc.) and crude oil. The shipping of dangerous goods, including oil and its derivatives, by water increased from 1.8 billion metric tons to 3.2 billion metric tons in the same period.
The growth of the maritime fleet was correspondingly influential in the development of trade. There was growth in both length and volume in this respect. As a result, since 1970, the maritime fleet has experienced a sixfold increase to reach 2 billion deadweight tonnage (DWT). Another factor in the growth of maritime trade was container transportation. While most ships had a maximum capacity of only 3000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in 1972, this has increased to 23,000 TEU today, making it easier to transport very large quantities of cargo in a single voyage. On an annual basis, the carrying capacity increased from 4 million TEU to 34 million TEU during the same period.
Water transport offers many advantages, which makes waterways more attractive in transportation. Efficiency and economy are at the forefront of these benefits as they allow ships to carry a greater load at one time. According to the World Shipping Council, one cargo ship can carry 7,600 vehicles.
Large cargo ships can carry 200,000 containers of products in a 1-year period. If an 11,000 TEU cargo is transported by rail, a 77 km long train is needed. Hundreds of kilometers of the truck fleet would be needed to transport the same cargo by road. However, there are ships with a carrying capacity of 23,000 TEU.
Another important advantage of waterway transportation is that it is cheaper. According to World Shipping Council assessments, the average cost of transporting a 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) cargo is $1.50 by plane, 5-10 cents by truck and 1 cent by rail, whereas the cost of transporting the same cargo by water is only 0.5 cents. In terms of comparison, water transport is 10 times more economical than road transport and two times more economical than rail transport.
Another advantage that waterway transport offers compared to other alternative modes of transport is its environmental impact. Owing to carrying much more cargo at one time, the environmental footprint is lower. It means less emission of greenhouse gases that cause the global problems of air pollution and climate change.
Again, according to the evaluations of the World Shipping Council, the transportation of 1 ton of goods from Melbourne, Australia, to the Port of Long Beach (12,770 kilometers / 8,000 miles) in California by sea causes less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than the transport of the same goods from Dallas, Texas, to Long Beach (2,307 km).
Similarly, shipping 1 ton of goods from Vietnam-Ho Chi Mint City Port to Tianjin-China (3,327 km) by sea causes fewer emissions than trucking the same goods from Wuhan to Tianjin (988 km) within China. This situation highlights water transport as the most environmentally and climate friendly option in the transportation sector.
Turkey has a unique geography. In addition to being surrounded by seas on three sides, it is located at the junction of important continents such as Asia, Europe and Africa. Therefore, it is in a position that brings Asia to Europe, and Russia to the Middle East by water. Turkey, which is located on many energy and trade route transit routes, wants to benefit from this natural advantage. In this respect, maritime activities in Turkey are gaining strength.
According to the 2018 Maritime Sector Report of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, the Turkish-owned maritime merchant fleet ranked 19th in the world with a capacity of 8.9 million DWT in 2003, and with the investment made, this value reached 28.6 million DWT in 2017, a threefold increase.
This growth was also reflected in the world rankings, boosting Turkey to 15th place. There are exponential increases in the amount of cargo and containers handled at our ports. According to Port Operators Association of Turkey (TÜRKLIM), Turkey went from handling 2.5 million TEU in 2003 to 11 million TEU in 2019. In the same period, the amount of cargo handled increased 2.5 times to 460 million tons.
One of the places that have an active role in the development of maritime activities in Turkey is the Straits. The Bosporus, the gateway of the Black Sea to the world, is one of the busiest waterways in the world in this respect. Countries such as Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania are connected to Asia and Africa by water through the Bosporus.
Home to many civilizations, connecting two continents, the capital of history and culture, Istanbul is sandwiched between two seas. The city has played host to many civilizations that have shaped history such as the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, formed by their cultures and brought to life with their works.
Although some of them were damaged, many historical masterpieces such as mansions and palaces, especially in the Bosporus region, have been preserved until today, inviting hundreds of thousands of visitors to witness this unique beauty.
The Bosporus passes through the middle of Istanbul – a metropolis with a history of 3,000 years and a population of more than 16 million, declared as the "cultural heritage of the world" by UNESCO – and winds through the historical sites of the city.
However, this city of civilizations faces a great risk. The increasing ship traffic every year and the ever-increasing dangerous cargo that passes through pose a threat that hangs like a black shadow over the historically momentous Bosporus region. When we evaluate Istanbul, the cradle of civilizations, from this point of view, the damages that potential accidents can cause to historical artifacts, the natural environment and the marine ecosystem in the region will be immeasurable.
According to the statistics of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, an average of over 40,000 ships on an annual basis, and around 120 ships on a daily basis, transit the Bosporus. Dangerous cargo ships, consisting of petroleum and petroleum-derived chemicals, constitute 20% of this traffic. In addition to this international traffic, the strait is congested by public ferries and other inner-city lines, the number of which reaches 2000-2500 as they bring the continents and coasts together.
In truth, compared to 15 years ago, there is a decrease of approximately 25% in the number of ships passing through the Bosporus. The main factors that led to this situation were the global economic crisis in 2008, the trade wars between the U.S. and China, the economic recessions and the pandemic that has besieged the world for the last year and a half. In addition to this, we can say that the oil and natural gas pipelines that have been built and that have turned Turkey into an energy corridor have also been effective in reducing the traffic through the strait.
However, despite the decrease in the number of ships passing through, there has been a continuous increase in the amount of cargo passing through the strait over the years. Nowadays, 150 million tons of cargo passing through can be classified as dangerous (oil, LNG, chemicals, etc.). The amount of dangerous cargo was 135 million tons in 2003. Therefore, there is an increase of 1 million tons of dangerous cargo every year on average. The 20% increase in the number of tankers carrying chemical cargo in the 2016-2018 period is also an indicator to keep in mind.
While the number of passing ships has decreased, the increase in the cargo load indicates that ship capacities are increasing. The main reason for this is to reduce transportation costs. Data also confirm capacity development. In 1997, the share of vessels longer than 200 meters (650 feet) in all vessels passing through the Bosporus was 3.6%. This value doubled to 7% in less than a decade and reached 12% by 2020.
Ships grew not only in length but also in volume. Again, according to the data of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, while the share of ships less than 500 gross tons crossing the Bosporus was 10% of all ships in 1997, this value decreased to 4% in 2006 and finally to 1% today.
Similarly, there was an increase in the volume of urban traffic. While 250,000 people traveled between the shores in 1997, this value has reached half a million today. In the meantime, the traffic density in the Bosporus has reached unbearable points with around 2,000 to 2,500 daily excursions.
The traffic density of the Bosporus makes it one of the most difficult waterways to navigate when combined with its geological and meteorological effects. Strong bidirectional currents in the Bosporus, which has 12 sharp turns including one of up to 80 degrees, pose a great threat to navigation. High flowing waters from the Black Sea create eddies, making navigation difficult for captains who are strangers to the region.
All these risks necessitate the implementation of numerous measures. These include prohibiting night passage of tankers greater than 200 meters, as well as measures such as increasing the waiting time from 48 hours to 168 hours (7 days) in order to meet various needs such as fuel and food supply, and closing the Bosporus to traffic in the morning hours (between 06:00-10:00) when the city lines are busy.
Besides, there are many days when the strait is closed to traffic owing to a decrease in visibility due to dense fog or due to meteorological factors and orkoz currents (reversal of the current from north to south due to a southwester). Furthermore, there are times when the Bosporus is closed to traffic on account of important racing and celebration events.
All these factors undoubtedly cause congestion in the Bosporus, which is currently experiencing transit traffic above its capacity. Consequently, waiting times are unusually long, which means additional costs for ship owners. Failure to deliver the cargo on time causes additional costs such as meeting the needs of the crew.
As a matter of fact, according to the data of the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, it has been evaluated that there is an average of 14 hours for each normal ship transit and 30 hours for each ship carrying dangerous goods, and this waiting period creates an additional cost of approximately $120,000 per day for the ships in transit.
Despite all the measures taken, accidents have not been fully prevented. The economic value of the loss in the strait, where dozens of large and small accidents occur every year, has exceeded $1.3 billion. In addition, unfortunately, there have been more than 70 deaths.
In particular, the fact that pilot and tugboat services are not obligatory triggers these adverse effects even more. We all know the severe property damage caused by the recent accidents of the dry cargo ships Vitaspirit and Songa Iridium and the warship Marshal Ustinov.
This situation is a great risk for the historical structures and cultural assets in the Bosporus bisecting Istanbul, which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. As a matter of fact, a 225-meter ship crashed into the Hekimbaşı Salih Efendi Mansion in 2018, causing millions of dollars of material damage to the historical mansion. Despite being restored to its original form, the loss of originality is an irreparable loss for Turkish culture.
Contrary to public perception, a fee is charged for passage through the Bosporus. Compared to Canals such as Suez, Panama, and Kiel, although there is a denser passage through the Bosporus, the revenues from these passages are relatively low. The average annual revenue generated from services such as unloading, lighthouses and sports activities in the region is around $150 million.
Accordingly, we need an alternative waterway in order to reduce the burden on the Bosporus, preserve the historical texture of Istanbul, create safer navigation and to benefit more effectively from the growing global maritime trade. In this respect, the Kanal Istanbul will be our remedy.
Kanal Istanbul is designed to lower the risks posed to the Bosporus by shipping traffic. First of all, it offers a flatter course compared to the Bosporus, meaning the formation of eddies caused by the fast current will be prevented. Slipways will be established every five kilometers to be used in case of emergency.
The terms and rules of passage through Kanal Istanbul will be determined entirely by Turkey. As a result, safety-enhancing issues such as pilots and tugboats will be mandatory. This will reduce insurance costs and reduce the insurance costs of agencies and transiting ships as well.
Contrary to the Bosporus, the necessary lighting will be installed in Kanal Istanbul to provide service at night and in conditions such as heavy fog, preventing the interruption of the passages. Thus, waiting times will be reduced as much as possible and the costs of transiting ships will be reduced.
By keeping the technological infrastructure strong, many ship tracking systems resembling an autonomous system will be installed. In short, it will be ensured that the passing ships will pass in a comfortable, convenient, and safe manner. As with highways, this will also be a reason for preference.
Kanal Istanbul will be an insurance for the protection of the cultural, historical, environmental and natural riches of the Bosporus. It will provide multi-faceted benefits to ships navigating in the city. Kanal Istanbul is genuinely a risk management project. Not only will it eliminate environmental and cultural damages, but it will also be a development move that will support Turkey to become the center of global trade with the ports to be established.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.