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From the Bosphorus: Straight - A Baltic lesson for the Bosphorus Strait

HDN | 6/28/2010 12:00:00 AM |

We support plans underway by Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, prompted by the BP oil spill, for a safety summit regarding tanker traffic on the Bosphorus and Dardenelles straits.

The continuing disaster in America’s Gulf of Mexico that is the blowout in a well operated by British Petrol remains an environmental nightmare both daunting in the damage to date and nightmarish as it continues to grow. But all such accidents necessitate study and the culling of lessons for the future. This includes the opportunity to know more about the dynamics of oil “plumes” in the deep sea and the opportunity to examine innovative new technologies such as the clean-up centrifuges advocated by actor Kevin Costner.

So we offer support to the plans underway by Energy Minister Taner Yıldız for a Thursday safety summit on the Bosphorus and Dardenelles straits that has been prompted by the BP spill. Many steps have been taken to improve safety in the transit corridor in recent years. These include the radar system implemented over the past decade and the institution of alternating one-way tanker traffic that began in 2005.

But more can be done and greater international attention to Turkey’s sensitivities on the passage of dangerous cargoes through the straits is needed. Many international environmental organizations, for example, have been loath to campaign too hard for tighter rules on the Bosphorus. This is because their focus tends to be on the construction of alternative energy pipelines, which they generally oppose.

But how would many of these same organizations greet the prospect of moving 92 million tons of crude oil each year down Paris’ Seine or London’s Thames or around Angel Island and out beneath the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco with the same tactical indifference? That the rulebook for this traffic was designed in 1936 and restricts tighter controls by international treaty is a matter that concerns us deeply.

But we do have to learn the lessons made available by others. And we think one system of maritime governance that has been neglected for its lessons is the so-called “Skagen traffic” that transits Danish waters in and out of the Baltic Sea. This is important not just because of the advanced technology used in safety procedures, but also because one of the principal users of this waterway is Russia. And Russia has proved a reliable and responsible partner in developing the body of rules for traffic through a strait whose commercial importance and difficult maritime obstacles are perhaps the most comparable in the world to that of the Bosphorus.

We doubt there is time to invite the safety experts at Poland’s Maritime University in Szczecin by Thursday. But their most recent and most comprehensive safety plan for the Baltic was completed just last month. It is available at www.balticmaster.org. We suggest a look for anyone interested in Bosphorus safety. Let’s learn from the experience of others, whether it be in the Baltic or the Gulf of Mexico.

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