An oil tanker collided with a cruise ship off the Gallipoli coast in the Dardanelles Strait late Friday. Fortunately, no one was harmed in the incident; however, oil spillage was reported from the tanker.
Louis Cristal, a cruise ship registered in Malta, and STI Pimlico, and 182-meter-long oil tanker registered in the Marshall Islands, collided at around 1:30 a.m. due to unidentified reasons.
The tanker was taken to a safe zone as it was carrying naphtha, a distilled petroleum product that is potentially explosive, and towboats applied water to the tanker to prevent any potential fire or explosion.
After the cruise ship carrying 853 passengers and 382 staff was also taken to a safe zone in Gallipoli, the Dardanelles Strait was opened to traffic, which had been temporarily closed.
Çanakkale Mayor Ahmet Çınar told Turkish television channel NTV that a huge disaster was prevented just in time and potential danger has been minimized thanks to intensive efforts.
Meanwhile, the heavy smell of the fuel that had leaked from the tanker caused disturbance among the citizens living in the Gallipoli and Lapseki towns. Ferry services between the two towns were cancelled for three hours as part of security measures.
The Dardanelles and Bosporus straits linking the Mediterranean and the Black seas are one of the most strategically and commercially important water channels in the world. The heavy tanker traffic via the Bosporus Strait running through Istanbul, Turkey's cultural and commercial capital, is a constant concern for Turkish officials and activists, who have been vocal in their calls for better maritime safety regulations. Earlier this month, hundreds of boats sailed through the Bosporus with activists from several environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) aboard to protest the oil tankers and large vessels that pose risks to maritime safety.
Boats adorned with banners reading, "No to Death Ships" and "Safety Before Disaster" were accompanied by the Coast Guard to prevent an accident in the crowded waterway. The protest is held every year to draw attention to potential disasters threatening both Istanbul's residents and its environment.
Turkey's straits are among the most at-risk waterways in the world, according to experts. More than 50,000 vessels, including tankers carrying highly flammable oil, pass through the Bosporus – an S-shaped channel with sharp turns and changing currents that pose challenges for vessels and sailors – every year. In compliance with the 1936 Montreux Convention, Turkey has to allow open access for all civilian vessels through its straits in peacetime.
However, accidents concern the country. From 1953-2003, 461 accidents occurred on the Bosporus. The deadliest accident was when a Romanian tanker and a Greek freighter collided and exploded in November 1979, killing 42 crewmembers aboard the Romanian 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. To change the course of vessels with potentially dangerous cargo, the government plans to build Kanal Istanbul, an ambitious project that will see the construction of a channel through the city's European side. The main purpose of the project is to reduce marine traffic through the Bosporus and minimize risks and dangers particularly associated with tankers. This comes at a time when international pressure is growing to increase marine traffic tonnage through Turkey's straits, which brings risks for the security of marine navigation.