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Another day in Kilyos, another shipwreck

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 1/22/2010 12:00:00 AM | ASLI SAĞLAM

Wintry storms blowing across the Black Sea are trouble for ships and are reminding Istanbul residents of the dangers of navigating the Bosphorus. Environmentalists are speaking out against the policies that led to the latest ship running aground. ‘It is unbelievably surprising that the crew did not pay attention to the weather conditions,’ says a fisherman

Dressed in yellow rubber boots and raincoats, a 120-strong crew are mopping up the latest oil spill along the Black Sea, but locals say what really needs to be cleaned up are the policies governing Bosphorus shipping.

The accident this week was not the first in the bay and will not be the last, according to local fishermen in Kilyos, a district known for its resorts on the Black Sea coast of Istanbul’s European side and for its deceivingly dangerous waters.

“No matter how many people work here, we will be facing the outcome of the accident. The fuel oil that is stuck to the rocks beneath the water will hit the beach every time there is a storm. This incident will create pollution that will last for at least five months,” said Sinan Kayacı, owner of Uzunya fish restaurant.

Himself a fisherman, Kayacı said: “Even the least intelligent among us would know that it is dangerous to go to sea. It is unbelievably surprising that the ship crew did not pay any attention to the weather conditions.”

The fisherman said the Orçun C was merely the latest in a series of boats to run aground in the area. “In the last four years, this is the third ship accident in Güven Bay and the fifth in Kilyos.”

Ravaged by stormy weather, the Moldovan-flagged ship Orçun C began dragging on the sea bottom more than one nautical mile from land. It finally ran aground Tuesday on the rocks at Güven Bay. Although the ship, which was en route to Gemlik Bay in Bursa, was not carrying any cargo, when the hull was breached its fuel oil leaked and contaminated nearby bays.

The beach and sea at Güven Bay are now colored black with the fuel oil, prompting authorities to begin a cleanup operation.

The expenses of the damage are covered by insurance, whose policy includes paying for the damaged ship, security and the environmental impact. The cost of a ship accident, however, is triple the cost of building a new ship.

Turkish legislation forbids ships from entering the Bosphorus in stormy weather; in cases of diminished visibility, however, vessels may ask for a captain from the Turkish Maritime Organization to guide them through. Because of the Montreux Convention, which regulates international shipping in the straits, ships transiting through are not required to request an alternative captain in cases of poor visibility.

Proposing measures that should be taken during stormy weather, Kayacı said: “The law should not allow ships to come within five nautical miles of the land during stormy weather. It is all sand beneath the high seas, and after a ship drops anchor it gets grounded because the anchor does not help in stormy weather.”

Adverse weather conditions have not aided in the cleanup operation, as the 96 tons of fuel oil and 25 tons of diesel oil are now spreading to the various bays around Kilyos and out to sea.

Officials at environmental non-governmental organizations believe there will be a negative effect on the region’s ecological system. This claim, however, is disputed by the cleaning company officials, who say the bay and the sea will be back to normal within 10 days.

Mesut Demirören, managing official of the cleaning company said there are no reports of widespread deaths among local birds and fish although he did admit that it is not clear how much fuel was on board the ship.

While Kayacı believed such claims were possible, he said there would be profound ecological repercussions if similar events happen five or six times per year.

Banu Dökmecibaşı, campaign manager of Greenpeace Mediterranean, called the accident a disaster, saying there would be serious effects to the area’s ecosystem. Although they have not been helping in the cleanup, Greenpeace has worked to save the environment after shipping accidents in various places throughout Turkey and abroad.

“The legislation should be reconsidered to account for the historical nature of the area,” she said.

She said the Turkish Strait Maritime Traffic Order Legislation, which governs such incidents, is lacking and must be amended. “This area is important, both ecologically and historically. In places like this, where the maritime traffic is heavy, the laws should be reconsidered,” Dökmecibaşı said.

[HH] Ticking time bombs on the Bosphorus

Turkey has a special place in the oil trade because of the Bosphorus, the only passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

A few days before the Kilyos accident, Turkey's Coast Guard held a meeting on maritime safety on the Bosphorus. According to its report, transiting ships carried a total of 101 million tons of petrol in 2001 alone. “Turkey is among the top 10 countries for shipping accidents. In the last 50 years there were 500 ship accidents that took place in the Bosphorus,” its report said.

“Between 2004 and 2008 the number of ships that passed through the Bosphorus reached 49,000,” Coast Guard director Salih Orakçı said, adding that nearly 9,000 of them carry dangerous cargo.

Most of the ships are from Malta, Russia, Ukraine and Panama.

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